Thursday, 14 July 2016

Really hi-tech ceramic tile!

Just for a change a ceramic story a little off the mainstream of construction and renovation. Ceramic tiles are common enough in commercial and domestic environments but they are also used on spacecraft including NASA's new Orion spacecraft which is designed to carry a crew of up to seven astronauts on missions to orbit and eventually Mars. Ceramic tiles are used precisely because of their outstanding physical properties. While similar to those used on the space shuttle, Orion only requires about 1,300 tiles compared to more than 24,000 on the shuttle. The tiles are made of ceramic and silica glass fibre. The tiles, along with the spacecraft’s heat shield, will protect Orion from the 3300 degree Celsius heat of re-entry. The tiles are individually shaped and specially formulated to rapidly release heat. It is not fast work. In fact, workers spent 11 months shaping the insulating blocks and laying on a heat-resistant, ceramic coating. They use a 5-axis mill loaded with precise dimensions to cut blank tiles to their shapes. Many of the tiles will have special cutouts for instruments to collect data. 
The Orion spacecraft, launched aboard NASA’s Space Launch System rocket on its first test flight and re entry in December 2014 was a great success. It is only scheduled to fly humans in 2023.

At Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians bond thermal protection system tiles to Orion's backshell panels. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

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