Jun 19, 1996

Local Scientists Produce First Aerogel in Space




Frozen Smoke


First Space-Produced Aerogel Made on Space Sciences Laboratory Rocket Flight


June 19, 1996: Aerogel is the lightest solid known to mankind, with only three times the density of air. A block the size of a human weighs less than a pound. Because of its amazing insulating properties, an inch-thick slab can safely shield the human hand from the heat of a blowtorch. A sugar-cubed size portion of the material has the internal surface area of a basketball court. As the only known transparent insulator, Aerogel is a supercritically dried gel sometimes referred to as "frozen smoke".
On April 3, 1996, the first space-produced samples of aerogels were produced by NASA on a flight of a starfire rocket. The production of such materials in space is interesting because of the strong influence of gravity on how a gel is formed. Comparison of gels manufactured in space and on the ground have shown large differences, and the production of gels in space can provide a higher-quality product with a more uniform structure.

Chemical Engineering Progress (June 1995, p 14) described "the holy grail of aerogel applications has been developing invisible insulation for use between window panes." The production of insulating and transparent windows through aerogel manufacturing in space can develop into a substantial market for residential and commercial applications. The excellent thermal properties and transparent nature of silica aerogel make it an obvious choice for super-insulating windows, skylights, solar collector covers, and specialty windows.

Aerogel tutorial

Contact Dr. David Noever
Code ES71
NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center
Huntsville AL 35812
for more information about aerogels.