Physical Properties of Space Shuttle Ceramic Tiles

Written by annette strauch
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Physical Properties of Space Shuttle Ceramic Tiles
Ceramic tiles protect the space shuttle from temperature extremes. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Various ceramic tiles are used on the surface of the space shuttle as part of its thermal protection system. The tiles provide protection during temperature extremes and contribute to the shuttle's aerodynamic design. The shuttle is covered with more than 27,000 ceramic tiles that keep the interior of the shuttle cool when the outside encounters temperatures of up to 1,648C. At the completion of a space shuttle mission, damaged or missing tiles are replaced.

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Reinforced Carbon-Carbon Tiles

Reinforced carbon-carbon tiles are used on the space shuttle in areas where the temperature during entry will be above 1260 degrees Celsius. They are black and protective between minus 250F. and about 3,000F., the temperatures the shuttle encounters in space and during re-entry. Reinforced carbon-carbon tiles are on the leading edges of the wings, the nose cap, a nearby area on the lower surface, and surrounding the forward orbiter/external tank structural attachment. These tiles, made in layers, are lightweight, strong and resistant to fatigue loading.

High Temperature Reusable Surface Insulation Tiles

These black tiles, used in many surface areas of the shuttle, are protective at temperatures below 2,300F. They are made primarily of silica, and are very porous, allowing them to expand and contract in response to temperature changes. These tiles are generally thicker toward the front of the shuttle where they experience higher temperatures, and thinner toward the back. They handle quick temperature changes, repeated cycles of heating and cooling, and the "cold soak" conditions of space without cracking or breaking.

Fibrous Refractory Composite Insulation Tiles

Fibrous refractory composite insulation tiles are placed mostly on the shuttle's base, where they experience the highest temperatures. Made of 80 per cent silica, these black tiles are strong, durable, crack resistant and lightweight. They withstand temperatures 100F. higher than the high temperature reusable surface insulation tiles.

Low Temperature Reusable Surface Insulation Tiles

These tiles are white because this colour improves the thermal characteristics of the upper wing and vertical tail that experience temperatures below zero. Low temperature reusable surface insulation tiles are made like the high temperature reusable surface tiles, but are thinner because they do not encounter temperatures as high.

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