0.03-inch wide close-up of the super-black, carbon nanotube coating.

Even though NASA has drastically scaled back its missions into space, that doesn’t mean the agency has stopped research for the benefit of space exploration. Evidence of this comes in the form of a new, super-black material that just got unveiled during the SPIE Optics and Photonics conference.

NASA is claiming it is the most light absorbent material ever developed, and capable of absorbing 99% of ultraviolet, infrared, far-infrared, and visible light. That may not sound too impressive on its own until you find out what it can be used for and the benefits it brings…

The super-black material is about 10,000 times thinner than a human hair and created using carbon nanotubes. Those nanotubes are positioned and grown on multiple other materials including silicon, stainless steel, and titanium. The process of applying the coating requires heating the surface up to 1,382 degrees in an oven filled with a “carbon-coating feedstock gas”.

The resulting coated materials offer up some major advantages over existing light absorption techniques used on instruments bound for space. As well as being up to 100x more absorbent than anything that has come before, the coating is significantly lighter than the black paint and epoxy commonly used today to absorb light. As weight is always an issue for space craft, this is a huge advantage on its own. Add to that the fact the coating does not fade like paint does, and you have a material that works better for longer.

Because the light absorption level is so high, the super-black material will also keep temperatures down for the instruments it is used on. And that very high absorption rate brings one final big advantage: it allows measurements to be taken at much greater distances in space because it removes the light emitted from around planets and stars as well as any generally high-contrast area of space.

With so many plus points to using this new coating, it shouldn’t take long for it to replace existing methods and become the standard for space instrumentation. The question then becomes, how can it be put to use on Earth, and what benefits could we see on the surface of the planet rather than above it?

Read more at NASA