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NASA ‘Smart Coating’ Eyes Hidden Rust

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

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Imagine a protective coating that not only resists corrosion, but singlehandedly sniffs it out even before it’s visible and springs into action to repair the damage.

NASA scientists say they have just such a “smart coating” in the pipeline.

The space agency reports that it is developing a multifunctional smart coating that controls corrosion “autonomously” using pH-sensitive microcapsules.

The microcapsules are designed to detect the pH changes associated with the onset of corrosion, respond autonomously to indicate its presence early, control it by delivering corrosion inhibitors, and deliver self-healing or film-forming agents capable of repairing mechanical damage to the coating.

Launch Pad Corrosion

Scientists at the Kennedy Space Center are working with Greenbelt, MD-based ASRC Aerospace Corp. on the coating, which they hope to use initially on launch-pad corrosion.

The launch environment at the Kennedy Space Center is extremely corrosive, comprised of ocean salt spray, heat, humidity, sunlight and acidic exhaust from solid rocket booster (SRB) exhaust.

 corrosion at Kennedy Space Center


Launch pad corrosion at the Kennedy Space Center costs NASA $1.6 million a year.

The center spends $1.6 million each year for corrosion control on the launch pads. Researchers say the coating could save KSC $132 million over 20 years.

Smart Coatings

“Smart Coatings”—the Holy Grail of coatings research—interact with their environment, unlike conventional coatings that passively protect the substrate after application. Smart coatings are engineered to sense a change in the environment and respond to the change in a predictable, reliable manner.

Microcapsules are polymer-coated particles or liquid drops that can carry a material that needs protection or controlled release, or to compartmentalize multiple-component systems.

With NASA’s coating, various pH-sensitive microcapsules with hydrophobic or hydrophilic cores were synthesized through interfacial polymerization reactions in emulsion. The process was optimized to obtain mono-dispersed microcapsules in a size range suitable for incorporation into commercially available coatings.

The microcapsules can be obtained in suspension or in free-flowing powder form, NASA said.

Preliminary results from salt fog testing of panels coated with the technology “showed the effectiveness of the corrosion indicator in detecting hidden corrosion” and delivering inhibitors, according to NASA.

The coating detected the corrosion “at a very early stage,” NASA reported in February at Smart Coatings 2011 in Orlando.


Tagged categories: Corrosion resistance; Protective coatings; Research; Smart coatings

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (6/1/2011, 5:06 PM)

How is this coating supposed to save 400% of the current entire corrosion budget? Even presuming that there is no corrosion maintenance at all, where is the other $100,000,000 coming from? That also neglects the up-front cost of the coating, unless NASA is getting it applied for free.

Comment from Jim Deardorff, (6/2/2011, 4:40 AM)

There has been "Smart Coating" research before based on the same principal used by NASA. There is a great advantage in the detection of coating defects before complete system failure occurs and irreversible corrosion damage begins for both economic and environmental considerations. The one major problems with this idea is how do you locate areas that have been repaired by the smart coating process and need to be repaired or replaced before the next failure event occurs. I contacted another agency that was working on a smart coating and suggested that they add fluorescence to their repair formulation so that workers could easily locate repair sites by UV-A "black light" inspection.

Comment from adrian morris, (8/3/2011, 12:56 AM)

Oh really? Well, that's what technology brings to us and NASA is one of the institutions that really applies technology in daily activities. NASA's shuttle system won't be sending everyone to space in the near future. Though they're not spending cash putting individuals into space, NASA will still be innovating. The development is going to be aiming into groundwater, not into space. The environmental cleanup will take years to clean up, as it took decades to cause. The spending budget for the cleaning is getting close to $1 billion. Here is the proof: NASA will be spending billions on environmental cleanup.

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