ESA Science Core Technology Development Success Story - Ground-Breaking Solution Enabling Demanding Optics Missions [Aug/2022]
A pan-European collaboration, funded by ESA’s Science Core
Technology programme, developed Silicon Carbide (Booster SiC) – an optical
material that is stiff, low-density, highly thermally conductive with low
thermal expansion, whilst meeting stringent mission requirements. ESA awarded funding
to the French company France’s Mersen Boostec for SiC technology scale up,
equipment, and facilities. The French company adopted a new approach and
developed a disruptive product that is stiff, low density, highly thermally
conductive and has a low thermal expansion, meeting stringent mission
requirements for Herschel and many more relevant missions. The mission’s mirror
resulted in being just a third of the mass of Hubble’s main mirror, despite
providing twice the observing area.
Space science missions are particularly demanding, carrying
highly complex instruments and requiring considerable precision and performance
to ensure the acquisition of the highest quality of data. ESA’s Science
missions are only getting more ambitious in their pursuit of pushing the
boundaries of our scientific knowledge on the Universe. Therefore, the space
observatories developed are becoming larger, and yet their mass needs to be
restricted to ensure the feasibility of launch and sufficient mission duration.
Materials traditionally used, such as glass-ceramic, are considerably too heavy
to meet the stringent requirements of such ambitious science missions. Silicon
Carbide (SiC) was identified as a promising potential solution to this
Mersen Boostec’s involvement in ESA’s Science missions have
allowed it to develop from a small, relatively specialised SME into being a
leader in Europe for silicon carbide optical solutions. Overall, there are now
23 full-SiC telescopes operating in space from Mersen Boostec, with another 10
being prepared for launch, whilst at the same time the company is diversifying
its portfolio into other market segments. Mersen Boostec has diversified its
portfolio beyond the space domain, entering terrestrial markets such as laser
scanning mirrors, the semi-conductor industry, and the fine chemicals industry.
Through this, Mersen Boostec has an opportunity to capture a share of
multi-billion euro and fast-growing markets.
Silicon Carbide has the benefit of being a non-toxic
material, able to replace Beryllium in industries such as in laser processes,
as well as being suitable for space missions requiring materials of high
stiffness, light weight and the ability to withstand extreme temperatures
whilst remaining stable. Therefore, the more SiC is used as a cost-efficient
replacement for Beryllium, the more steps can be taken towards having safer
The Boostec SiC material not only provides Europe with
increased competitiveness, but also feeds into the expansion of European
non-dependence for developing, accessing and using core technologies.
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This initiative is led by ESA’s Science Core Technology
Programme. More information can be accessed at ESA
- Science Core Technology Programme (CTP).