Latest News | 11 June 2024

University wins funding for ‘space junk’ project

University of Derby
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A technique that could help build large structures in space and give ‘space junk’ a new lease of life is being trialled by a team of scientists led by the University of Derby.

The researchers, led by Professor Angelo Maligno, research chair in Composite Materials at the university’s Institute for Innovation in Sustainable Engineering, have been awarded £150,000 by the UK Space Agency as part of the final round of its Enabling Technologies Programme, which is supporting the UK’s space capabilities.

Working with The Welding Institute, Lukiasiewicz-Poznan Institute of Technology in Poland, and Goodfellow Advanced Materials, the team will be using Integrated Computational Materials Engineering tools to develop and test a material bonding method for use in space.

With more and more companies exploring the opportunities to set up manufacturing in space, the race is on to create a habitable base on the moon.

The structures required for this would be too large to launch already assembled, so a technique for putting them together is needed.

The University of Derby team and its partners are exploring the use of Transient Liquid Phase Diffusion Bonding (TLDB) as a method for welding together components in space.

This process bonds materials using a thin layer of liquid that spreads along the join between them to form a joint at a lower temperature than the melting point of the parent materials.

It would remove the constraints on the size and complexity of structures and would create more robust joints that are better able to withstand the demands that the space environment would place on them.

The team is also investigating the use of TLDB to address the issue of sustainability in space.

The bonding method has potential to be used to turn the Earth’s ‘orbiting scrapyard’ into a recycling space hub by transforming the spent upper parts of rockets into orbiting laboratories, greenhouses, fuel depots and space stations.

Professor Warren Manning, Provost (Innovation and Research) at the University of Derby, said: “This funding is exciting news for the research team at the university, with great potential impact for advancing the UK’s capabilities in space.

“This is just one example of the work being carried out at the IISE and across the university, partnering with industry to achieve tangible impact and make a difference to our future world.”

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