Assistant professor Erica L. Corral has been awarded $400,000 by the National Science Foundation to research new materials for spacecraft coatings that can withstand the super hot environments encountered in space missions.
Under certain conditions, such as when a spacecraft re-enters the Earth's atmosphere, some parts of the vehicle can reach 2600-2800 degrees Celsius. That's about double the melting point of steel and more than half the estimated temperature of the Earth's core.
"There is the potential for longer missions in more extreme environments," Corral said. "However, thermal protection materials that will survive re-entry are a huge issue for space missions. Using current materials, you can only use the vehicle once because it's burned up during re-entry."