Nasa designs a pressure-sensitive paint to better test its rockets

Ever wondered how the legendary National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa designs its rockets? State-of-the-art simulations and real-world testing notwithstanding, the latest tool in Nasa’s arsenal is paint. Yes, paint.

This isn’t just any paint, though. It’s some sort of high-tech paint that can be used to measure “fluctuating pressure forces” on aircraft and rockets.

All rockets encounter buffeting when launched. This is due to the variation in pressure forces that arise as a result of the rocket’s speed and tremendous acceleration. This high-tech paint is pressure-sensitive and reacts with oxygen, changing color when it comes into contact with it.

When testing in a wind tunnel, researchers can observe the distortions in the paint flow and thus calculate the effect of the buffeting that caused it.

Buffeting, if not accounted for in the design of a rocket, can literally shake an object to pieces, says Nasa.

It’s a challenging aspect of rocket design to study and so far, Nasa scientists say they’ve had to rely on advanced aerodynamic models, but these are far from perfect.

The paint helps to visualise the effects and should help in the design of even more safe and secure rocket designs in the future.

The paint is still being tested, however. Scientists are currently working to compare the findings from observing the paint patterns to the readings from the simulations.

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