High-performance racing cars are now driving more smoothly than before, thanks to space-ready rubber from ESA spacecraft.
Toulon-based French company SMAC specializes in finely tuned rubber formulations that cushion sensitive machinery everywhere, from space to the racetrack.
“They’re very high-damping materials. They have been used in everything from space missions to aeronautics and even auto racing,” said CEO Philippe Robert.
In space, special SMAC materials are used to reduce pyrotechnic shocks – basically, the explosions that jolt a satellite when it’s launched atop a rocket or when explosive couplings release.
“When you have pyro-bolts or any pyrotechnic device, they create a lot of energy in a very short time. Engineers are concerned you could break sensitive items with a high-frequency shock,” Philippe noted.
Another way the special materials are used in orbit is to eliminate the tiny vibrations caused by a satellite’s moving parts. Such vibrations might throw off the measurements of a sensitive device or result in blurry images of the cosmos.
ESA has worked with SMAC to develop damping technology for the Agency’s Expert reentry test craft and the solar array of the Automated Transfer Vehicle responsible for resupplying the International Space Station.
“Expert used the anti-vibration mounts or dampers on three different sets of equipment: the inertial measurement unit, the power control and distribution unit, and the beacon,” said Anthony Thirkettle, Expert Principal Mechanical Engineer in ESA.
“They reduce the mechanical loads coming from the launcher to levels that the equipment was designed and qualified for,” he added.
Based on the knowhow from developing Smactane certified by ESA for use in space, the company has produced other rubber materials for non-space applications.
Smacbumb is being used to rocket Formula 1 cars along the world’s racetracks. The exact composition of both types, Philippe said, is proprietary.
The 650 kg high-performance machines sometimes drive 800 km in a race weekend, exceeding 300 km/h. The high stresses and speeds also make them ideal testbeds for any high technology, including the materials developed by SMAC.
“With our rubber parts, they get better performance and better tuning. It’s costly, but it appears it is a very important part in terms of the handling of the car,” Philippe said.