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Curiosity Coating is Out of This World

Thursday, November 1, 2012

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A cosmic coating that stood up to four years of exposure on the International Space Station is now being used on the Mars Curiosity Rover to protect the craft's power unit as it collects data on the Red Planet.

The paint-like spray coating, AZ-2100-IECW, weathered the harsh space environment from August 2001 to July 2005 as part of the Materials on International Space Station Experiment (MISSE) investigation.

Now, it's getting a spin on the Mars mission.

The coating, tested and developed by AZ Technology in Huntsville, AL, "met stringent outgassing requirements and withstood temperature extremes and thousands of hours of ultraviolet radiation from the sun, making it an ideal candidate for the cooling fins on Curiosity’s power unit," according to a release by the space agency.

NASA Intl Space Station - coated fins
Photos: NASA

This photo shows the coated fins (center) on Curiosity's Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator. The protective coating on the fins was tested for four years aboard the International Space Station.

AZ Technology has developed many thermal control and conductive paints/coatings for spacecraft and terrestrial applications, including space flight experiments placed on the outside of the Russian Space Station Mir during the first joint Russian/U.S. spacewalk.

Avoiding Getting 'Zapped'

Not all space environments are the same, but if a material can survive for a long time in one space environment, NASA believes it may prove useful for longer exploration missions.

Such is the case with AZ-2100-IECW, one of 19 different coatings developed by AZ Technology for the four-year Space Station's MISSE-2 mission.

“It’s exciting to be part of the Mars Science Laboratory mission and see our work on the surface of Mars,” said Lynn Leeper, company president and chief executive officer.

The "EC" in the coating name stands for electrically conductive. "Static electricity can build up on a spacecraft as it is exposed to proton and electron radiation," NASA explains. "Electrically conductive or static-dissipative coatings can help protect the electronics from getting zapped."

Mission Specialist Patrick Forrester opens a Materials International Space Station Experiment.

Mission Specialist Patrick Forrester opens a Materials on International Space Station Experiment (MISSE) passive experiment container on the station's airlock. Nearly 4,000 samples have been used in MISSE experiments in the last 11 years.

AZ Technology’s coating was applied on the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, or MMRTG. This power unit converts the heat from decaying plutonium-238 into electricity that Curiosity needs to survive, NASA said.

Speeding Development Time

NASA said the MISSE materials test bed had provided data on the durability of materials "that have helped spacecraft designers shorten the development time for satellite hardware components by 50%," saving time and ensuring more reliable performance.

“Our company has coated parts for many satellites, the International Space Station, and extra-orbital missions, but typically we do not get to see pictures of our work in such an amazing setting,” said Leeper. “It makes us feel much closer to the adventure.”

NASA said, "The potential for future exploration projects to benefit from space station technology continues to expand, thanks to ongoing use of the orbiting laboratory as a technology test bed. Currently, MISSE-8 operates externally aboard the space station, continuing to aid in developing advanced materials to Mars and beyond."



Tagged categories: Coating chemistry; Coating selection; Research

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