NASA engineers are continuing to work out the details for Orion, the spacecraft that will take actual humans to the next frontiers of space. Among many changes for the next mission in a few year’s time is a new and very shiny paint.
As the agency explains, “Orion’s thermal protection system is one of the most critical parts of the spacecraft and is responsible for protecting it and the future astronauts it will carry home from deep space destinations”. The ‘thermal protection system’ is a multi-faceted thing, consisting of important-sounding things like heatshields.
But the paint applied to the outside of the spaceship is also important. For the next Orion mission, NASA will be applying a coat of metallic paint, which will help the spacecraft stay at a more constant temperature. While it’s flying around in space, the coating will keep the interior warmer, saving energy that would otherwise be spent on heating. During re-entry, it will help keep the 4,000+ degree heat on the outside.
Orion is next supposed to fly in 2018 or 2019, atop the Space Launch System rocket. That (uncrewed) mission will take the capsule on a three-week tour through space, followed by a high-speed re-entry, where we find out if the fancy new thermal protection system works as advertised.