Thermal materials startup Carbice finds foothold in space industry

Space

WASHINGTON — Atlanta, Georgia startup Carbice has developed a nanotech-based thermal-management material scheduled to launch on five satellites by the end of this year.

The material, called Carbice Carbon, is designed to fill air gaps between computer chips, replacing epoxy- or graphite-based materials to dissipate heat from electronics. Carbice’s thermal material is made of aluminum overlaid with carbon fibers and coated with a polymer.

Customers have integrated Carbice Carbon into two geostationary communications satellites the company declined to name. In addition, synthetic aperture radar startup Capella Space ordered enough of the thermal material for several satellites, Baratunde Cola, Carbice founder and chief executive, said in an interview.  

Carbice is focusing on space industry sales before marketing Carbice Carbon for data centers and other high-performance computing systems, he said. 

“Space and semiconductor manufacturing, which we view as niche markets, are perfect for us to go to market, mainly because they have the most difficult environmental and reliability requirements,” Cola said. 

To test Carbice Carbon’s ability to withstand the harsh conditions of space, the 11-person company sent the thermal management material to the International Space Station where it remained on an external platform for about 14 months before returning to Earth in a SpaceX Dragon capsule in January.

Capella tested a spacecraft subassembly earlier this year built with Carbice Carbon, and was pleased by the results, said Cole Gingras, Capella senior spacecraft thermal engineer.

Smallsat manufacturer Blue Canyon Technologies is also considering Carbice Carbon for satellites it builds, Matt Beckner, chief operating officer of Blue Canyon, told SpaceNews June 16. 

Carbice recently completed a 2.5-year materials qualification review for a large U.S. satellite manufacturer that plans to use the company’s product for a significant space program this year, Cola said.

For other industries, Carbice can modify its thermal material by layering on polymers with different properties through a process Cola compared to “glazing a donut.”

Cola, a former professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, founded Carbice at the university’s Advanced Technology Development Center in 2011 as a holding company for intellectual property. In 2016, Carbice raised $400,000 from angel investors. The firm exited stealth mode in 2017 after raising $1.5 million in a seed round. 

Carbice has won more than $3 million in Small Business Innovation Research grants from the U.S. Air Force, Army and the National Science Foundation. The company hopes to raise at least $4.5 million in a Series A round by late this year or early 2021, Cola said. 

With that funding, Carbice would establish a production facility to produce its thermal nanotech for spacecraft and a wider range of markets, including internet servers, gaming devices and power electronics, Cola said. Carbice would also use the funds to double or triple its headcount, he added. 

Space will remain a long-term focus for Carbice as it expands to other markets, Cola said. 

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