New Coating Shows NASA That Nano is the New Black

Space exploration is about to take a quantum leap forward. How? Through innovations in nanotechnology. The new super-black nanotechnology that has got the astrophysical world talking is a thin exceptionally uniform coating of multi-walled nanotubes. These nanotubes are made of pure carbon and are roughly 10,000 times thinner than a strand of human hair. Developers of this technology believe that it will make spacecraft instruments more sensitive without needing to increase their size. The plan is to test this new technology on the International Space Station within a year.

The super-black carbon nanotube coating has been in development for around six years and has been particularly effective in reducing stray light. In space, stray light can inhibit the ability of sensitive detectors to pick up faint signals. The new coating absorbs 99.5 percent of the light in ultraviolet and visible light spectrums. Amazingly, it also absorbs 99.8 percent of the longer reaching infrared bands. The reason that the super-black carbon nanotube coating is so effective lies in the composition of the nanotubes themselves. Nanotubes are mostly empty space, when light enters the tubes it is absorbed by the carbon atoms and only a small fraction of it is reflected back out. To the human eye and the sensitive detectors the substance appears black.

First phases of testing this coating in space have already been completed on an earlier mission but the second phase of testing is due to begin soon. Second Phase testing will involve sample discs of the super black nano coating, and a few other discs covered with other NASA coating samples to measure its effectiveness. The discs will go into space for testing during NASA’s Robotic Refueling Mission. Should this test prove successful long term goals for the coating will be for application on NASA’s new satellite initiative called CubeSats. These satellites are smaller and less-expensive and the coating will assist in reducing the cost of space missions.

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