SpaceX is a company that is shrouded in
secrecy. Not much is known for sure about
what the space-faring start up company is up
to, beyond the occasional wide-eyed
declarations of its founder Elon Musk.
However, a new clue has surfaced about how
SpaceX’s latest venture will be using steel in
a revolutionary new way.
TO BOLDLY GO…
When an object enters the Earth’s atmosphere at
extreme speed, such as a spaceship travelling at
just under thirty thousand kilometres an hour, it
meets atmospheric gases such as oxygen,
which is then super-compressed and converted
To an observer it looks like the nose of the ship
is on ﬁre, but it’s technically a combination of
plasma and eroded steel that is being seen
trailing away from the craft.
Regular space craft, such as the Space
Shuttle built by NASA, undergo a process
called ablation, where the nose of the craft is
damaged upon re-entry. Imagine it like how a
flood will erode the banks of a river, with the
surface being worn away by the elements.
THE HEAT IS ON
One of the ultimate aims of SpaceX is to make
interplanetary travel between Earth and Mars a
reality and having repair crews on Mars would be a
ﬁnancial and logistical nightmare.
So, a design that can repeatedly handle the structural
trauma of atmospheric re-entry is needed.
The SpaceX effort is a completely
window-less design, with a distinctive
stainless-steel coating all the way around
from nose to tail. The overall ideas is for it to
resemble liquid silver.
It uses a precisely cut steel, in the shape of
interlocking hexagons, that has incredibly
small holes drilled into its surface. These
holes are designed to funnel out microscopic
doses of liquid methane, which would then
instantaneously convert to gas and plasma
as it meets the intense heat to keep the
overall structure intact.