Nanocomp's partnership with NASA could lead to larger, but lighter, rocketsBy KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Union Leader Correspondent
June 04. 2017 6:48PM
MERRIMACK — Nanocomp Technologies Inc. is evolving the use of its carbon nanotubes and its continued partnership with NASA through a recent launch that tested its groundbreaking technology.
Last month, NASA successfully launched the SubTec-7 mission using a Black Brant IX rocket from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Nanocomp produced carbon nanotube fibers to fabricate a carbon nanotube composite overwrap pressure vessel for the rocket that was launched on May 16.
“It was a big deal in the advancement of our products into space use,” said Peter Antoinette, president of Nanocomp Technologies in Merrimack.
Although Nanocomp’s materials have been used on the spacecraft side, they have never been used on the rocket until now, Antoinette said.
“This is the first time our Miralon has been used in the booster. It is now on the rocket itself, and that is just a preview of other upcoming launches,” he said.
The Miralon sheet material serves as a protection system, and is essentially used as a shield over the vehicle. In this instance, the Miralon was used to make a very lightweight, high-performance propellant tank that holds under high pressure fuel use for thrusters to control the booster itself, Antoinette said.
SubTec-7 provided a flight test for more than 20 technologies to improve sounding rocket and spacecraft capabilities, according to a release from NASA, adding good data was received during the flight, and the payload was recovered.
“It was a perfect performance,” Antoinette said about Nanocomp’s material on the launched rocket. The carbon nanotubes not only reduce the weight of the vehicle, but also help improve its performance, he said.
After making a composite pressure tank for NASA, Nanocomp leaders are optimistic that in the future, composite tanks for other vehicles using Nanocomp technology will be possible.
“Our material is conductive, so it is self-grounding,” said Antoinette, who is hopeful the product can eventually be used for hydrogen tanks and on fuel tanks for boosters.
It has been an exciting initiative working with NASA on this effort, according to Antoinette, who said the possibilities are endless as larger rockets with more strength and less weight can now be imagined.
Last month’s flight enabled NASA to test and see how 24 new technologies and experiments performed in a real-world environment, according to a release.
“Sounding rockets are not only used for conducting science missions, but also provide an excellent platform for technology development. While the flight is short in duration (17 minutes), enough flight time is provided to test the new technologies,” said Cathy Hesh, technology manager for the sounding rocket program office at Wallops, in a recent statement.
Nanocomp’s carbon nanotubes are on board NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter, a solar-powered spacecraft that broke the record last year for traveling the farthest from the sun.
Nanocomp has about 75 employees and operates a 60,000-square-foot facility at 57 Daniel Webster Highway, with plans to add an additional 40,000 square feet in the next couple of years.
At full capacity, the Merrimack facility will have the capability to produce approximately 40 metric tons of Miralon products annually.