NASA unveils shiny new coat for its Orion spacecraft

Metallic coating will help keep Orion at a more constant temperature in space.


NASA on Thursday evening released conceptual images of its Orion spacecraft featuring a new, metallic-based coating that will protect the vehicle both in orbit and during its fiery return to Earth.

Engineers at Johnson Space Center have decided to add a silver coating to the back shell panels of the spacecraft, which will help Orion regulate its temperature. When in space, as Orion faces away from the Sun, the new insulating coating will help keep the vehicle warm. And when the spacecraft is in direct sunlight the coating will keep the interior of the spacecraft cooler.


NASA says the coating will help Orion’s back shell maintain a temperature on the exterior of the spacecraft from -100°C to  to 290°C while in space. It will also help shield Orion from electrical charges during the nearly 40,000 kph return velocities from the vicinity of the Moon.


Orion flew its first test mission in December, 2014, when it climbed to about 5,800 km above the Earth’s surface before returning through the atmosphere, deploying parachutes and splashing down in the Pacific Ocean. Although the uncrewed vehicle performed well during that flight engineers determined that they needed to boost its thermal protection system for missions deeper into space, when it would return at an even higher velocity.

The vehicle will next fly in 2018 or 2019, atop NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, making another uncrewed test on what will be the massive rocket’s maiden flight. Orion, which has been under development in one form or another since 2004, is not likely to carry humans until 2022 or 2023 at the earliest.



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