Launching rockets into space is an expensive endeavor but rocket failure could result in failed launches and even costly and potentially fatal accidents.

Crucial Role Of Rockets In Space Missions

Last December, Russia's Progress MS-04 space cargo crashed on its way to the International Space Station. The investigation later revealed issues with the Proton-M rocket prompting Russian authorities to ground the Proton space rockets for three and a half months.

Rockets can make or break space missions. To improve the performance of rockets, NASA has turned to pressure-sensitive paints.

Unsteady Pressure-sensitive Paint

NASA aerospace researchers used the high-tech paint called Unsteady PSP (pressure-sensitive paint) in a state-of-the-art aerodynamics test to measure the fluctuating pressure forces that affect aircraft and spacecraft.

NASA explained that aircraft and spacecraft should both be designed to withstand the dynamic forces called buffeting. Otherwise, there is risk of being shaken into pieces.

Unsteady PSP, which produces a bright crimson glow in the presence of high-pressure airflow, allowed researchers to precisely measure these fluctuating forces.

How Pressure-Sensitive Paint Works

The paint works by reacting with oxygen to generate light. Differences in pressure produce variations in the amount of oxygen that interacts with the painted surface causing variations in the intensity of light emitted.

The changes in the paint allow researchers to visualize where the changing forces apply on the rocket as it accelerates. The different pressures are visualized as colors. Red means higher than average pressure and blue means lower than average pressures.

"It's full of tiny pores that let the air flowing over the model come into contact with a greater surface area of the paint. This allows oxygen to react more quickly with the paint, yielding more accurate data on the fluctuating pressures affecting planes and rockets during flight," NASA explained in a statement.

Used In Simulated Flights Of Space Launch System Rocket Model

During simulated flights of a model of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in a wind tunnel at NASA's Ames Research Center, cameras recorded images that researchers combined to know the pressure everywhere on the model vehicle.

SLS is the world's most powerful rocket and is set to carry NASA's Orion spacecraft on missions to an asteroid and to planet Mars. Ensuring that the rocket works properly and efficiently would be a step closer to a successful manned mission to the Red Planet.

The technology allowed researchers to capture measurements fast enough to catch up with the rapidly changing pressure load over the entirety of the model vehicle's surface. The data offered a first step in a better understanding of how the structure of a vehicle will respond to buffet in flights and minimize impacts through design. The paint, which is sprayed on in a thin layer, can also speed up and lower costs of SLS tests.

"We learned from this test that this method is what you need to study buffet," said Jim Ross, an aerospace engineer in the Experimental Aero-Physics Branch at Ames. "There's a lot we don't understand about unsteady flow that this paint will help us figure out."

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