When we think of cork, we often associate it with popping champagne bottles on New Year’s Eve. However, this versatile material is set to play a crucial role in protecting astronauts during space travel and reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, […]
When we think of cork, we often associate it with popping champagne bottles on New Year’s Eve. However, this versatile material is set to play a crucial role in protecting astronauts during space travel and reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, making it a key component in the conquest of the Moon and Mars.
Derived from the bark of the cork oak tree, primarily found in Mediterranean countries, cork has been known for centuries. Its most famous use is for wine bottle stoppers. However, this material holds much greater value. Thanks to its exceptional characteristics, cork has already been utilized in critical components of rocket technology and is expected to have even broader applications in the future.
Today, we are witnessing exponential growth in space transit, not only through major space agencies but also through smaller commercial companies launching satellites and humans into space at a lower cost. However, the downside is that every space flight can have unintended impacts on the environment. As a result, scientists and space companies are striving to make space travel easier and safer for both astronauts and our planet. Many are turning to natural materials to minimize the potential damage. But the question arises: Can wood withstand the extreme conditions of space?
Materials used in space must possess multiple favorable characteristics, such as low mass, extraordinary strength, and resistance to extreme temperatures and various forms of radiation. Cork has been used in the Mediterranean region for the past five thousand years and more recently, it has been employed as an insulator in refrigerators, Arctic exploration vessels, and submarines.
Amorim, a leading cork manufacturer, emphasizes that 70% of cork is air. Every cubic centimeter contains 40 million cells, making the material very lightweight with highly robust cell walls, which contribute to its excellent insulation properties and ability to withstand extreme temperature variations. Furthermore, he highlights that cork is not a human-made product but rather a gift from nature.
In the 1960s, cork disks were used in Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles. In the early 2000s, Boeing employed cork mixed with resin for its Delta IV expendable launch vehicles due to its non-flammable properties. In 2020, the European Space Agency tested cork as an insulator during a study on the reentry of space objects into the Earth’s atmosphere. Currently, cork is used in the Atlas V, NASA’s main rocket since 2002, which has carried probes to Mars and Jupiter, among other missions.
NASA’s current aim is to send humans back to the Moon using cork-insulated rockets. Their Space Launch System (SLS) accelerates from 0 to 28,000 km/h and reaches a height of 160 km above Earth in just eight minutes. During the flight, extremely high temperatures are generated, which could compromise the liquid fuel, convert it into a gaseous state, and lead to an explosion.
The third Artemis mission will utilize the SLS to launch the Orion spacecraft, which is designed to land the human crew near the lunar south pole. Without adequate insulation, astronauts’ lives could be at risk.
Frequently Asked Questions:
1. What is cork?
Cork is a material obtained from the bark of the cork oak tree and is used for insulation, making bottle stoppers, and increasingly in space technology.
2. Why is cork used in space?
Cork is extremely lightweight, strong, and resistant to extreme temperatures, making it ideal for use in spacecraft.
3. What is the role of cork in space travel?
Cork is used as an insulator to protect the spacecraft and astronauts from the extreme conditions of space, such as high temperatures and different forms of radiation.
4. How is cork used in space missions?
Cork is used to insulate rockets and spacecraft to maintain thermal stability during launch and flight.
5. Is the use of cork environmentally friendly?
Yes, cork is a natural material obtained from the bark of cork oak trees. Its use contributes to nature preservation and reduces the harmful impact of space travel on the environment.