Enhanced Emissivity in High-Speed Window Materials

Navy SBIR 24.1 - Topic N241-015
NAVAIR - Naval Air Systems Command
Pre-release 11/29/23   Opens to accept proposals 1/03/24   Now Closes 2/21/24 12:00pm ET    [ View Q&A ]

N241-015 TITLE: Enhanced Emissivity in High-Speed Window Materials

OUSD (R&E) CRITICAL TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Hypersonics; Space Technology

OBJECTIVE: Identify and develop methods to enhance the emissivity of sensor window materials capable of surviving high-speed flight environments.

DESCRIPTION: Weapons technology advancement has been driving missile systems to strive for greater speeds, ranges, and accelerations; all of which put much greater thermal and mechanical stresses on the system. Often the weak link in these designs is the sensing aperture, whether it be an Electro-Optic/Infrared (EO/IR) window or a Radio Frequency (RF) radome. In addition to being a structural material, these must also be transparent within the relevant wavebands, and maintain this transmission throughout the flight. This limits material choice significantly, and forces performance trade-offs to survive the high enthalpies.

Over the duration of a flight profile, transient heating of a window typically involves an energy balance of convective heat transfer, radiative heat transfer and conduction between the window, the external environment the weapon is flying through, the internal environment of the weapon, the weapon structure the window is attached to and the radiative exchange between the window and both the external and internal environments. The majority of the flight profile results in a strong convective aeroheating input into the window with some periods of aerocooling where the window is hotter than the surrounding recovery temperatures. As the window rises in temperature, radiative heat loss to both the external and internal environments also occurs. As the window temperature gets hotter, the magnitude of that radiative heat loss increases by a factor of temperature to the fourth power and at higher temperatures can result in equilibrium temperatures hundreds of degrees cooler than without the presence of radiative heat loss. Heat removal due to convection is limited in effectiveness due to the flight speeds involved and the negative effects of relying on internal convection to sink heat to the interior of the weapon. Enhancing the conduction of windows is limited in effectiveness without unintentionally altering the electromagnetic properties; plus the structural attachment location of the window is at similar temperatures, preventing the needed thermal gradient to conduct heat away into those surrounding structures. Radiation, however, is different; while the distribution of energy "available" to be radiated is simply a function of temperature (known as the blackbody curve), each material has its own emission spectrum, which describes at what wavelengths energy can be emitted. There is often, and in the case of IR windows necessarily, a gap in which the material cannot emit radiation. If part of the blackbody curve lies within this gap, that energy cannot be radiated, and as such cant contribute to cooling the window.

This is particularly a problem for IR windows, which rely on this gap in order to function. The typical mid-wave IR (MWIR) band is from 35 m, meaning there can be little to no emission within these wavelengths, and typically not much below this as well. Even at the relatively low temperature of 500 C, nearly 50% of the available energy lies between 1 and 5 m, where essentially no emissions are expected to occur. This only gets more significant as temperatures climb and the blackbody curve shifts to shorter wavelengths.

If even narrow emission peaks could be engineered at shorter wavelengths, without interfering with the desired transmission window, it could increase energy dissipated through radiation drastically. At 1000 C, a half micron band centered around 2.25 m contains 15% of the energy available in the entire spectrum, roughly the same as all emission above 6 m (which is about where state-of-the-art MWIR windows begin emitting). If this unused energy can be taken advantage of, the range of environments a window could operate in could be greatly expanded, and with it the mission space and possibly the performance of the system as a whole. A similar approach was used on the space shuttle, with the black tiles on the bottom used to maximize emissivity; it just didnt have the complication of needing to be a functioning aperture.

A successful project would produce a set of test articles demonstrating a significant increase in emissivity while maintaining transmission characteristics at high temperatures (> 1000 C for IR materials, > 1250 C for RF materials) within the chosen waveband (MWIR, X-Band, Ka-Band, etc.). The test articles must also demonstrate resiliency to stresses which would be encountered in high-speed flight. Testing for this may vary depending on the proposed solution, but may include: high high-temperature mechanical tests, thermal shock tests, electrical tests, arcjet/plasma torch testing, and microstructural examinations.

PHASE I: Develop a process/material that demonstrates significantly increased emissivity of the chosen window material without degradation of transmission in the relevant waveband. Show that the concept can feasibly meet the requirements of high-speed flight through analysis, modeling, and/or characterization of materials of interest. The Phase I effort will include prototype plans to be developed under Phase II.

PHASE II: Develop and deliver notional full-scale prototypes (minimum of two) that demonstrate functionality under the required service conditions, including thermal and mechanical stresses. Produce sufficient test samples for material characterization efforts to show viability for high-speed flight as described in the Description section.

PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Work with a program office to produce a system-applicable window. Participate in qualification testing equivalent to the system, including environmental and hypersonic wind tunnel testing.

There have been some recent efforts looking into controlling emissivity to provide efficiency increases in thermophotovoltaic power generation, which this could possibly feed into. Space applications are also possible, as the only way to dump heat in a vacuum is through radiation. There could be some niche private sector applications, which utilize high-temperature windows as well, but unless commercial high-speed travel grows, this market is limited.


  1. Harris, D. C. (1999). Materials for infrared windows and domes: properties and performance (Vol. 158). SPIE press. https://doi.org/10.1117/3.349896
  2. Walton, J. D. (Ed.). (1970). Radome engineering handbook: design and principles (Vol. 1). M. Dekker. https://www.worldcat.org/title/1314367401

KEYWORDS: Window; Aperture; Hypersonic; Emissivity; Infrared; Radome


The Navy Topic above is an "unofficial" copy from the Navy Topics in the DoD 24.1 SBIR BAA. Please see the official DoD Topic website at www.defensesbirsttr.mil/SBIR-STTR/Opportunities/#announcements for any updates.

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Topic Q & A

1/12/24  Q. Would it be enough to name just one material (either IR or RF) and develop the emissivity enhancement process for this specific window material? Also, what temperatures do these materials operate at in a hypersonic flight environment? (Are those above 1000 C for IR and 1250 C for RF?)
   A. Yes, especially for Phases 1 and 2 choosing one material to develop is sufficient, especially if the proposed solution involves the bulk window material. If the solution is coating based, development using one substrate is fine, but the ability to be adjusted and adapted to other substrates is desired. Exact operational temperatures are going to vary system to system based on geometry and window location, as well as trajectory. 1000C and 1250C were values chosen taking the increased emission into account, with the idea being that the materials will require a higher heat flux to reach them. The end goal would be a material that can survive and operate at as high a heat flux as possible.
12/26/23  Q. Would a thermal management system that solves the thermal challenge be considered responsive for this topic? What is the size of the IR window or RF radome? Do you have any requirement on the lifetime of the IR window or RF radome with enhanced emissivity? Could you please specify the material of the window/radome?
   A. The enhanced emission would be the intended thermal management system in this case. It may be combined with others in the future, but that is not the goal of this topic. Window size would be system dependent, and for development stages wed be mostly looking for coupon scale, but the process should be scalable to full size windows (6x4 in or so for IR ideally, possibly larger as well as supporting full nosecones for RF.) Lifetime is also somewhat system dependent, but somewhere in the 15-20 year range for storage and 20-30 minutes of hypersonic flight in atmosphere would be a good reference point. Future reusable systems would likely have more demand here, so worth keeping in mind but not a requirement. Material system would be chosen by the submitter depending on their individual solution; Any will be considered as long as it is shown that they can survive and operate in a hypersonic flight environment.
12/05/23  Q. What level of emissivity enhancement would be considered responsive? The topic refers to 15% of total blackbody energy contained between 2-2.5 m at high temperatures. Can you give any guidance what a "significant increase" in emissivity compared to unmodified material would be?
   A. A 5% increase in total radiative emissions at 1000/1250C for IR and RF materials respectively would probably be considered significant, but higher is always better as long as it doesnt significantly limit performance in the targeted waveband.

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