BNNTs are a upcoming and promising nano-tube for space exploration. Featuring a young's modulus similar to diamond [1] and offering extensive radiation protection [2], Could BNNTs be utilized in a Whipple Shield-like design for interplanetary spacecraft? Current designs of the Whipple Shield use Kevlar, but I believe that BNNTs could potentially be stronger than Kevlar [3].

This question is mostly for fact-checking the possibility of the replacement of Kevlar in standard Whipple Shields with Boron-Nitrate Nano-tubes for increased ballistic and radiation protection. I would prefer hard-science answers, but any response would be appreciated.

[1] (http://www.nims.go.jp/eng/news/press/2010/09/p201009140.html)

[2] (https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/niac_2011_phasei_thibeault_radiationshieldingmaterials_tagged.pdf)

[3] (http://www.dupont.com/content/dam/dupont/products-and-services/fabrics-fibers-and-nonwovens/fibers/documents/Kevlar_Technical_Guide.pdf)


1 Answer 1


I wouldn't be able to judge without seeing how it actually performs under test, but it's important to point out that young's modulus actually has very little effect on the ballistic performance of a material under hypervelocity impact conditions.

The suitability of a material for MMOD shielding depends on different things, depending on where in the shield layup you want to use it. For the outermost layer, not a whole lot matters beyond environmental degradation performance, as it's going to get penetrated. You just want to make sure it is there. For intermediate layers, thermal resistance and toughness are important, as you need to be able to absorb the incoming energy. Extremely high stiffness materials are often quite brittle, which means they don't actually absorb much energy.

TL;DR: Maybe. We won't know for sure until we actually build some shields out of the material and test them.

  • $\begingroup$ What about woven- BNNT fabrics? Some companies are manufacturing several variants of BNNT ranging from powders to yarn-like strands. Could such a design be more flexible and effective on impact? $\endgroup$ Jan 4, 2018 at 6:28
  • $\begingroup$ As I said, without testing, we just don't know. Hypervelocity impact tends to defy intuition. $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    Jan 4, 2018 at 16:23

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