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Material Selection

Scope and Description

This topic covers the selection of materials throughout a spacecraft design. This includes - but is not limited to - spacecraft structure, circuit boards, thermal interface materials, surface finishes, adhesives, and coatings. Material selection is primarily driven by mechanical, thermal, and electrical performance. Engineers must also consider is how materials will outgas or degrade in the space environment.

Resources under this topic area primarily include guidance for material selection and properties of materials used in space applications.

Best Practices and Lessons Learned

  • When selecting a polymer-based material (e.g. plastics, adhesives, staking materials) start by checking the outgassing performance of that material. It is uncommon for a given polymer-based material to meet standard NASA requirements, so this is a good first step before further evaluation of its suitability for your application. The NASA outgassing database listed in the resources list for this topic is extensive and a good place to start your search for this data.
  • Always consider the potential cost and schedule impacts of material selection. If possible, stick to readily available materials that are easy to work (i.e. machining of metals or plastics, mixing and application of adhesives and coatings, etc.). Low-outgassing adhesives, coatings, thermal interface materials can be very long-lead, so allow for alternatives in your design if possible.
  • Pay attention to material heritage. Selecting materials that have had extensive use in space will be good for mission assurance. It will also allow you to avoid exhaustive research into potential failure mechanisms due to radiation, thermal cycles, outgassing, launch vibration, or other harsh environments that space hardware experiences.


This database provided by Goddard Space Flight Center's Materials Engineering Branch is an excellent ... reference for outgassing data. Use the search feature to determine whether your candidate materials meet your outgassing requirements. Make sure to consider any preparation, bake-out, curing, or other conditions noted in the test data.

National Research Council

The contents of this resource are the results of the National Research Council's Panel on Small Spacecraft ... Technology's review of NASA's technology development program for small spacecraft. Chapter 5 provides a concise review of common smallsat materials and their advantages and disadvantages. Structural and cost considerations are given.

This resource documents NASA testing of twenty thermal interface filler materials. It succinctly details ... test apparatus, methods, and results. A few interesting conclusions can be found in Section 6, and the list of materials tested can be helpful when looking for candidate materials.

White Paper

This resource is "a systematic design-oriented, five-step approach to material selection". It walks the ... reader through establishing design requirements, material screening, ranking, researching specific candidates, and applying specific cultural constraints. This resource is quite technical, with thorough descriptions and insight beyond the material selection process.

This resource summarizes research into thermal interface materials (TIMs) specifically within the context ... of cooling high power devices in space (i.e. Field Programmable Gate Arrays). It investigates various types of TIMs, their material properties, and their reliability.

These slides deliver a good overview of what Thermal Interface Materials (TIM) are, the problems they ... solve, and important considerations when selecting a TIM. It also provides some background on thermally conductive PCBs, insulators, plastics.

This masters thesis covers thermal design and thermal analysis for small satellites. It includes background ... on the physics of heat transfer, software tools for thermal modeling, thermal control hardware, and processes for thermal design and analysis. An example thermal analysis for a university small satellite is presented in detail. Appendix B provides optical properties for common surface finishes and coatings.

David Gilmore

This chapter titled "Thermal Surface Finishes" is a comprehensive reference regarding surface finishes ... used in space applications. It includes applications, key material properties, and degradation mechanisms, and degradation data from the LDEF experiment.

David Gilmore

This chapter titled "Insulation" is a comprehensive reference regarding insulation materials used in ... space applications. It includes multi-layer insulation (MLI) blanket design and material selection, venting considerations, electrical grounding provisions, and fabrication guidance.

David Gilmore

This chapter titled "Mountings and Interfaces" is a comprehensive reference regarding the thermal design ... and analysis of interfaces for space applications. It includes design guidance, formulas for modeling thermal interfaces, surface roughness values for various production methods, and thermal interface material properties.

David Gilmore

This chapter titled "Phase Change Materials" is a comprehensive reference regarding phase change materials ... (PCMs) used in space applications. It includes applications for PCMs, material properties, design guidance/considerations, and key equations for modeling their performance.

These appendices provide properties for materials and finishes used in space applications. These include ... surface optical properties, material thermal properties, and thermal interface material properties.

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