Introduction to Microgravity
Tutorial on Microgravity Research

Tutorial on Microgravity Research

page 4: Specific Areas of Microgravity Research

Aerogel Polishing Slurries and Semiconductor Insulation

Aerogel is a nearly transparent dry gel principally made of silica. It is the lightest solid known on Earth, weighing as little as 3 times that of air, and has the equivalent thermal insulating quality equal to 10-20 glass windowpanes. A single inch thickness of this silica-based material has the internal surface area of a basketball court and can protect a human hand from the heat of a blowtorch. Aerogel can be used in more than 800 different product applications ranging from satellites to surfboards . Thanks to its near weightlessness, aerogel can save significant weight in future space vehicles. It prevented the Mars Rover from freezing in transit to the Red Planet.

An important immediate application on Earth is the use of aerogel to conserve energy. Dr. David Noever, a NASA researcher, has cited the following possible applications for aerogel: Insulating, clear windows. Large, energy-stingy skylights. Oven door panels. Space-saving refrigerators. Lightweight picnic coolers. Even an aerogel surfboard in the closet.

Aerogel produced in microgravity is more transparent than aerogel produced on Earth, which have a slight blue haze, arising from the presence of large pores formed during the gellation.

Other industry impacts include polishing of semiconductor wafers to allow a more uniform surface for circuits and transistors placement; Automotive: high performance engines with greater horsepower and better fuel efficiency. High performance pumps.

NASA estimates the market for Aerogel to be $ 8 billion yearly.


ZBLan is a new, space age substance with the potential to revolutionize fiber optics communications. A member of the heavy metal fluoride family of glasses, ZBLan has promising applications in fiber optics. It can be used in a large array of industries, including manufacture of ultra high purity fiber optics, optical switches for computing, telecommunications, medical surgery and cauterization, temperature monitoring, infrared imaging, fiber-optic lasers, and optical power transmission.

ZBLan is a mixture of barium, zirconium, lanthium, aluminum and sodium fluorides. Dr. Dennis Tucker of NASA/ Marshall Space Flight Center, and co-investigators from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and Boeing have found that ZBLan manufactured in a microgravity environment has properties that far exceed current state-of-the-art optical fiber materials or even ZBLan made on Earth. A ZBLan fiber optic cable manufactured in space has the potential to carry 100 times the amount of data conveyed by conventional silica-based fibers .