Wonderful Engineering

This Powdered Bone Coating Keeps Solar Orbiters Fom Melting Near The Sun

Powdered bone coating keeps Solar Orbiter from melting near the sun

Processing bones to make a special bone powder “solar black” is the next big thing that will aid in space exploration.

Human and space exploring organizations have been trying to learn more about the hottest star, “sun,” closely, but their attempts didn’t get much, given the materials used in the spacecraft are bound to melt at those high temperatures. But not anymore.

NASA’s new sun exploring aircraft is covered with a layer of powdered bone, allowing the Parker Solar Probe to be the first spaceship to travel close to the sun, absorbing and reflecting intense heat to contain its parts from melting in space.

For years now, scientists and researchers have been trying to reach a material that sustains crazy high temperatures near the sun, where a known solid metal ‘led’ would melt in a matter of milliseconds. They put different materials like carbon fiber and other metals to test, but the findings were clear, they won’t sustain those high temperatures.

Upon an invitation by European Space Agency to suggest materials for the cause, the Irish Biotechnology company (ENBIO) came to play with the idea of using powdered bone as a covering for the probe, leaving it as the most metal spacecraft in history.

The biotechnology company, at first, used the powdered bone as synthetic coatings for orthopedic and dental implants. Upon knowing the ESA suggestions portal is open, they thought of taking their special, robust material to space for an important mission to explore the Sun.

Turned out, it was what ESA and other space exploration firms were looking for, a material that we have since stone-age but was not known of having these tremendous capabilities, of covering the solar orbiter to sustain high temperatures while carrying on to observe and study the sun closely.

The synthetic bone powder was white in color, and experimenting showed that it gets darken after getting exposed to sunlight for long durations. Exposure to the sun changed the material’s property of reflecting the sunlight to absorbing its heat. The black powder coating now known as the ‘solar black’ showed properties perfect for the whole solar mission, absorbing the intensive heat and dumping it down in the space, all while securing the spacecraft from excess heat.

“I tried to color the bone powder to make it black, but it didn’t work too well,” said John O’Donoghue, the founder of ENBIO. “Instead, I started looking for a naturally black bone powder. I remembered reading as a kid that in cave art, people used charcoal and, in some cases, burnt animal bones because the end of it would be like a crayon, and they could draw on walls,” he said.

“After O’Donoghue stated of burnt animal bone powder, ESA found it was ideal for the solar mission. In addition to being black, there’s nothing combustible left in the material, so when it’s heated up it, doesn’t release any gases that could damage the spacecraft,” explained Garcia Marirrodriga.

Solar Orbiter

The final coating is known as Solar Black, which coats almost the fifth of solar orbiters’ outer surface, allowing the sensitive parts to operate at room temperatures. On the other hand, the white coating covers the parts of the spacecraft that need to reflect the heat in place of absorbing it for optimum functioning.

The solar orbiter covered with solar black is destined to start its major mission in November. It sent mesmerizing closest images of the sun ever taken last July. The probe reaching close to the sun has proved that the new material would become a key ingredient in space explorations in the future.