Archive: Apr 2024

Airship Applications of Polyurethane-Coated Fabrics

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The aviation landscape is continuously evolving, increasing the demand for advanced materials to serve new projects. A leading material in the industry is polyurethane-coated fabrics, which offer various properties that make them an exceptional choice for airships. They are high-performance fabrics that can advance the field of lighter-than-air (LTA) vehicles safely and sustainably.

Although airship technology is not new, it is getting renewed attention due to its low carbon emissions and ability to load or unload cargo without requiring costly ground infrastructure like roads or airports. Using hybrid-electric power and helium for lift, modern airships are key to the future of sustainable travel and transport, particularly for delivering cargo to remote areas. Key players in the airship industry, such as Flying Whales and LTA Research, are poised to make airships more accessible within several years.

Learn why polyurethane-coated fabrics are an ideal material to support this burgeoning technology.

A Shift Towards Polyurethane-Coated Fabrics

The airship industry traditionally relied on PFAS-coated fabrics, including perfluorooctane sulfonates (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). However, these coatings have become known as “forever chemicals” that do not break down in the environment or human body, where they can cause health and environmental problems. These findings have prompted a transition to safe and sustainable options like polyurethane-coated fabrics.

Why Polyurethane-Coated Fabrics for Airships?

PFOA- and PFAS-free materials like polyurethane-coated fabrics deliver a combination of unique properties to offer an ideal solution for airship applications:

  • Highly Durable: Polyurethane-coated fabrics can withstand the harsh environments present in air travel, resisting wear, tearing, and abrasion damage.
  • Impenetrable to Helium: The fabrics have a long lifespan and maintain buoyancy in the air by providing a leakproof, helium-tight barrier.
  • Weather-Resistant: Polyurethane-coated fabrics allow the airship envelope to withstand harsh environmental conditions, including extreme temperatures and UV exposure.
  • Flame-Retardant: The polyurethane coating can be made with flame retardancy to enhance the safety of the airship.
  • Flexible and Lightweight: Polyurethane-coated fabrics are flexible and lightweight, permitting airship manufacturers to produce aerodynamic shapes and minimize overall vehicle weight.
  • Non-Breathable: Fabrics coated with polyurethane are impermeable to moisture and air, meaning that they maintain optimal air quality and prevent condensation inside the airship.

Tex Tech: Leading the Way in Polyurethane-Coated Fabrics

At Tex Tech Industries, we are a leader in developing polyurethane-coated fabrics for the manufacture of advanced airship envelope materials. Our polyurethane coatings are flexible, lightweight, and non-breathable to deliver optimal helium retention, which supports prolonged flight times. Our commitment to sustainability and innovation has made us a trusted leader in supplying high-performance materials to airship manufacturers.

The Future of Airship Technology and Polyurethane-Coated Fabrics

As the airship industry evolves, polyurethane-coated fabrics will be a driving force in sustainability and the creation of versatile LTA vehicles. Polyurethane-coated fabrics are crucial in growing the capabilities of airships and unlocking new airship applications, including scientific research, passenger travel, surveillance, and cargo transportation.

Learn More About Polyurethane-Coated Fabrics

As the airship industry expands, manufacturers are seeking PFAS- and PFOA-free fabrics to reduce the environmental and health impact of their operations without compromising the safety and performance of their vehicles. Polyurethane-coated fabrics are a leading sustainable alternative that offers performance similar to traditional PFAS- and PFOA-coated fabrics. The material is durable, weather- and flame-resistant, leak-free, and lightweight. The growing adoption of polyurethane-coated materials will help expand the applications of LTA vehicles in the future.

Tex Tech is a specialty fabric and textile designer and manufacturer. We develop innovative material solutions for critical industries, including aerospace, defense, automotive, filtration, and medical. Contact us or request a quote to speak with a specialist about our polyurethane-coated fabrics for the airship industry.

What Does a Heat Shield Do?

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Space exploration involves exposure to incredibly harsh conditions, and missions involving re-entry face the biggest challenges of all. Whenever spacecraft and payloads must re-enter the earth’s atmosphere, special solutions must be in place to ensure it can withstand the high temperatures and speed it will be exposed to. Heat shields provide this protection, and play a multifaceted role during re-entry. 

In this article, we’ll answer the question, “What does a heat shield do?” and take a closer look at the design components that make heat shields able to withstand space environments. 

What Does a Heat Shield Do? 

A heat shield’s role is to protect the spacecraft during the re-entry phase of a mission. Heat shields act as insulators – redirecting, reflecting, or absorbing the extreme heat generated as the spacecraft re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere. They also help the spacecraft slow down to below supersonic velocities. This is the first and most crucial phase of landing a vehicle safely, either to protect human passengers or to ensure a passengerless vehicle can later be reused.  

Understanding the Environmental Conditions of Re-Entry

During the re-entry phase of a mission, the spacecraft is exposed to high levels of radiation, drastic temperature variations, and friction from atmospheric particles. During this time, the spacecraft will exceed speeds of over 7 kilometers per second and experience external surface temperatures of over 1,600 °C. Reliable shielding mechanisms are needed to ensure these conditions do not destroy the spacecraft and its payload. 

The Function of Heat Shields in Space

Heat shields can be thought of as the first line of defense for a spacecraft during re-entry. During descent, an immense amount of kinetic energy is generated. Heat shields help safely dissipate this, preventing extreme overheating that would result in structural damage. There are multiple types of heat shields currently used in space missions, as well as experimental technology still in development. 

Thermal protection systems, radiative cooling, and ablative shields are three different methods of efficiently managing thermal loads:

  • Thermal protection systems (TPS). Using a variety of insulating materials, such as ceramics or carbon composites, these systems provide a protective barrier against high temperatures. 
  • Radiative cooling. Radiative cooling is a passive cooling method that dissipates heat to ensure optimal internal temperatures.
  • Ablative heat shields. This type of heat shield features a layer of plastic resin that burns off during re-entry, creating a gaseous reaction that lifts heat away from the shield’s outer wall. 

Key Components and Design Configurations

Heat shield design involves careful consideration of aerodynamics, spacecraft structure, and mission-specific requirements. To begin, the heat shield must be designed in an aerodynamic shape that will minimize drag and compression during descent. 

When an object enters the Earth’s atmosphere, it experiences friction, or drag, that creates extreme mechanical stress. The heat shield should feature a structure that mitigates these effects. Material durability and shield structural integrity are other important considerations. Heat shields must be made from high-performance yet lightweight materials that minimize the spacecraft’s overall mass while being able to withstand the rigors of space travel. 

Challenges and Innovations in Heat Shield Technology 

While many advancements have been made in heat shield technology, there are still many challenges that persist. Developing solutions that meet weight restrictions while providing reliable thermal protection is an ongoing issue. However, research has been driving innovation in this field, and there are many promising new technologies. 

Advancements in materials science are creating new, more lightweight, and durable composites that can enhance heat shield performance. At the same time, additive manufacturing allows for the creation of more complex geometries and highly customized heat shield designs. At Tex Tech, we develop advanced thermal protection systems using innovative textile products.

Heat Shield Solutions From Tex Tech

Space heat shields are essential for protecting astronauts and spacecraft during the re-entry phase of space exploration missions. As one of the most thoroughly researched areas of the aerospace industry, there are many options available to create a reliable thermal protection system, and new innovations are being made every day.

At Tex Tech, we’re committed to delivering the most advanced heat shield solutions, backed by over a century of experience. To learn more about our products for the aerospace industry, contact us or request a quote today.