China develops new coating for spacecraft thermal control

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Chinese scientists have developed a metallic-based thermal-control coating for the Shenzhou-14 crewed spaceship that will protect the taikonauts from extreme heat and cold during their six-month stay in orbit.

The new coating works in two ways: providing low solar absorption to help reduce the sun's effect on the spacecraft's interior temperature; and providing low infrared emittance to block heat release from internal sources.

Tasked with completing the construction of China's Tiangong space station, the orbiting Shenzhou-14 taikonauts will witness several complex station configurations during their six-month journey. Cargo craft and lab modules that dock with the space station core module are likely to block the sunlight to the spaceship, resulting in long-term exposure to the extreme cold found in the shadows of deep space. The spaceship also has to cope with the intense heat found in the direct sunlight of outer space.

Without thermal controls, the temperature of the spacecraft's sun-facing side can soar to above 100 degrees Celsius, while the dark side can plunge to minus 100 degrees Celsius. The extreme high- and low-temperature environments pose challenges to the health of the taikonauts and the functioning of the spacecraft.

Developed by the China Academy of Space Technology, the thermal-control coating was first used on the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft, which was launched on Oct. 16, 2021. It kept the cabin environment within acceptable temperature ranges (between 18 and 26 degrees Celsius) during its six-month space journey, allowing the taikonauts to stay cool and comfortable in their orbiting home.

China launched the three-person Shenzhou-14 mission on June 5, providing the third crew for the country's space-station project. During their stay in orbit, the crew will witness two lab modules, the Tianzhou-5 cargo craft and Shenzhou-15 crewed spaceship docking with the space station core module. 

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