Aerogel is the lightest solid known to mankind, with only three times the density of air. Aerogel, because of its appearence is sometimes referred to as "frozen smoke". Aerogel produced on the ground typically displays a blue haze or has a slight cloudiness to its appearence. This feature is believed to be caused by impurities and variations in the size of small pores in the Aerogel material. Scientists are trying to eliminate this haze so that the insulator might be used in window panes and other applications where transparency is important.
The Aerogel made aboard the flight of the Starfire Rocket has indicated that gravity effects in samples of the material made on the ground may be responsible for the adverse pore sizes and thus account for the lack of transparency. Both the diameter and volume of the pores in the space-made Aerogel appear to be between 4 and 5 times better than otherwise identically formulated ground samples. Because Aerogels are the only known transparent insulator, with typical heat conduction properties that are five times better than the next best alternative, a number of novel applications are foreseen in high performance Aerogels.
Contact Dr. David Noever
NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center
Huntsville AL 35812
for more information about aerogels.
Nanotechnology: New 'Frozen Smoke' May Improve Robotic Surgery, Energy Storage
Zhai's team worked with UCF professors Saiful Khondaker, Sudipta Seal and Quanfang Chen to create multiwalled carbon nanotubes (MWCNT) aerogel. Carbon nanotubes are so small that thousands fit on a single strand of human hair. And using the nanotubes instead of silica (major material in sand), the foundation for traditional aerogel, increases the materials' practical use."
No matter how cold the low-g bodies are in space - super-insulation can keep the heat in where you need it.