Register for an account


Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.


Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

The Sciences

Space X tests re-entry material

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitFebruary 25, 2009 1:00 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

This picture is very cool. And very pretty!


That's a test of the PICA-X (Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator) material, a variant of the material NASA uses on its heat shields to protect astronauts during re-entry. It was developed by the private company Space X to use on their Dragon capsule, which will ferry materials and astronauts into space. In the pictures, it's being blasted by a very hot (up to 1850 C) arc jet at the NASA Ames Research Center. When the Dragon capsule re-enters, it will violently compress the air in front of it. A compressed gas heats up, and that's why materials coming back from space must be protected. PICA (originally developed by NASA) actually heats up, melts, and blows away (ablates), taking the heat with it. Enough material is coated on the windward surface to make sure it lasts through the whole process. In a sense, it's like sweating, but on a somewhat grander and scarier scale. Dragon is slated to launch sometime this year on a Falcon 9 rocket. Space X has not yet launched a Falcon 9, but plans on doing so soon. Image courtesy Space X.

    3 Free Articles Left

    Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.


    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

    Want unlimited access?

    Subscribe today and save 70%


    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In