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Aerogel: Space exploration applications

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The unique physical properties of aerogel have proven to be enabling to a variety of both flight and proposed space exploration missions. The extremely low density and highly porous nature of aerogel makes it suitable for stopping high velocity particles, as a highly efficient thermal barrier, and as a porous medium for the containment of cryogenic fluids. The use of silica aerogel as a hypervelocity particle capture and return media for the Stardust Mission has drawn the attention of many in the space exploration community. Aerogel is currently being used as the thermal insulation material in the 2003 Mars Exploration Rovers. The SCIM (Sample Collection for the Investigation of Mars) and the STEP (Satellite Test of the Equivalence Principle) Missions are both proposed space exploration missions, in which, the use of aerogel is critical to their overall design and success. Composite materials comprised of silica aerogel and oxide powders are under development for use in a new generation of thermoelectric devices that are planned for use in many future space exploration mission designs. Work is currently ongoing in the development and production of non-silicate and composite aerogels to extend the range of useful applications envisioned for aerogel in future space exploration projects.

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Correspondence to Steven M. Jones.

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Jones, S.M. Aerogel: Space exploration applications. J Sol-Gel Sci Technol 40, 351–357 (2006).

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