Irish technology company Enbio has secured a contract worth €500,000 with the European Space Agency (ESA) to work on developing a surface treatment that could be used as a type of ‘sunscreen’ to better protect the external surfaces of satellites as they travel through space.
The contract with the ESA will also allow Enbio to set up its first manufacturing facility at NovaUCD, where the company is headquartered.
Once developed, Enbio’s surface technology could potentially be used on the ESA’s Solar Orbiter satellite, which is due to launch in 2017 to carry out a close-up study of the sun. The satellite will travel closer to the sun than any satellite has done to date.
Enbio is also currently collaborating with Astrium, the main contractor for the Solar Orbiter satellite.
In its new manufacturing facility, Enbio will use its technology platform to produce ‘black’ surfaces, which it will then deploy on critical internal and external surfaces of satellites.
According to the company, these black surfaces combine extreme thermal and ultra-violet radiation stability, robustness and electrical conductivity characteristics to better protect satellites against intense solar radiation in space.
Enbio’s SolarBlack technology could be chosen for a number of applications on the Solar Orbiter satellite, including its heatshield.
"The challenges of building a spacecraft that will fly so close to the sun means we are always looking at better ways to protect it from the harsh environment – and Enbio’s surface looks very promising," said Andy Whitehouse, the Solar Orbiter programme manager at Astrium.
Enbio’s CEO John O’Donoghue invented and developed the company’s CoBlast process. He said the CoBlast replaces a metal’s oxide layer, typically aluminium and titanium, with a thin surface. This surface fuses to the underlying metal in a single step and doesn’t require chemicals or thermal input, according to Enbio.
"Our technology offers unique surface solutions to challenges across multiple industry sectors, including the aerospace industry," said Nigel Cobbe, vice-president for business development at Enbio.