Since the dawn of Space exploration, Corticeira Amorim has been the main technological partner in supplying insulation solutions for NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). The integration of cork in spacecraft and rockets began with the Apollo 11 mission, which took Man to the Moon for the first time. From success to success, it has been part of the Titan, Delta, Mars Rovers and Atlantis programmes. In the European programme, Corticeira Amorim has also been responsible for integrating cork solutions in thermal and anti-vibration shields, with important contributions within the framework of the Ariane 5 project and the new Vega rocket.
"Cork is nature's foam, a foam with a unique combination of properties."
in NASA Tecnhical Reports Server
The insulation materials for the aerospace industry, marketed under the TPS brand (Thermal Protection Systems), play an important role in the success of the launch and operation of all spacecraft, whether manned or not. When a rocket or spacecraft is launched into space, its structure is subjected to such high temperatures that it risks being burnt up. The same occurs on its return to Earth, as soon as the spacecraft enters the atmosphere. TPS materials are pioneering in the thermal protection of shields, as a result of a unique cork compound which has withstood decades of space travel.
The chemical composition of cork and its cell structure, made of air, make it an excellent thermal insulator. Just a coating of a cork compound between 1.6 cm and 2.5 cm thick, depending on the heat load it shall have to withstand (always above one thousand degrees centigrade) is needed to protect the spacecraft from the spread of flames.
The cork is applied to critical components for the spacecraft's safety - usually the nose cone and other parts of the propulsion rockets coupled to the spacecraft. Any error could be fatal to the equipment and crew, therefore the maximum standard is required for the efficiency of TPS products.
For the future, the successful tests for the use of cork in Space exploration open up new opportunities, which include the application of solutions for an interplanetary programme. The standard required is even higher: distant destinations, such as Mars, or the private transport of astronauts and material for Earth's lower orbit.