NASA’s Groundbreaking New Development in Rocket Science Is … Paint?

Paint probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of rocket science, but NASA’s Ames Research Center has discovered it can use paint to identify the parts of rockets that are being overly buffeted by pressure as they zip toward supersonic speed.

By Leif Johnson | MOTHERBOARD

Specifically, it’s “Unsteady Pressure Sensitive Paint” that reacts with oxygen to create light, causing the parts of the rocket under the most duress to shine bright red in simulations. By studying those points, they can refine their designs to minimize or eliminate those problem spots in order to keep the craft or rocket from breaking up.

The paint isn’t actually used on real rockets. Instead, the pinkish substance is lightly painted over a scale model, which is then set up in a wind tunnel that mimics the intense atmospheric pressures on a real spacecraft or aircraft. NASA has used pressure sensitive paint in the past, but it wasn’t effective as it could be as it only measured averages over time.

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