Scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center are testing nanotechnology to use on spacecraft. Nanotechnology is the development of devices on a scale of individual atoms and molecules.

The specific goal of this team at the Goddard Space Flight Center is to use nanotechnology to reduce reflection off the surface of satellites, so that the data they collect are not "polluted" by scattered light. The carbon nanotubes that the team grows have proven to be 10 times better than NASA Z306 paint, currently used on spacecraft instruments.

  1. What is a carbon nanotube?

    • Answer

      A carbon nanotube is just what it sounds like: a hollow tube, one nanometer wide, made entirely of carbon atoms. (A nanometer is a billionth of a meter. A single human hair is about 50,000 nanometers wide.)

  2. Scientists at the Goddard Space Flight Center use a method called carbon assisted vapor deposition to grow nanotubes. What are the three materials used in this process?

    • Answer

      The three materials used in carbon assisted vapor deposition are:
          • a substrate, or base material where the nanotubes grow. The substrate used by the NASA scientists is usually made of silicon or titanium.
          • a catalyst, which helps the chemical reaction that grows the nanotubes. The catalyst is iron.
          • a gas, blown over the heated substrate and catalyst. This gas, ethylene (C2H4) contains the carbon that will become the nanotubes.

  3. "Blacker than black" nanotubes absorb much more light than the black paint currently used on NASA satellites, making the nanotubes very important to scientists. Currently, how much data can be lost or "polluted" by scattered light?

    • Answer

      Scientists can lose up to 40% of their data due to scattered light.

  4. Dr. John Hagopian says the nanotubes are very "robust." What does he mean?

    • Answer

      "Robust" carbon nanotubes are strong enough to stay in place, not fall off and hit satellite instruments such as mirrors.

  5. What are some popular uses for carbon nanotubes outside NASA?

    • Answer

      Carbon nanotubes are used in creating lightweight, strong sporting equipment, such as bicycle frames and tennis rackets. Carbon nanotubes may also be used in electrical wiring, solar panels, medical technology, textile manufacturing, and dozens of other applications.


large group.


the basic unit of an element, composed of three major parts: electrons, protons, and neutrons.


chemical element with the symbol C, which forms the basis of all known life.


substance that causes or quickens a chemical reaction, without being affected by it.

Plural Noun

(singular: datum) information collected during a scientific study.


number of things of one kind in a given area.


state of matter with no fixed shape that will fill any container uniformly. Gas molecules are in constant, random motion.


development and study of technological function and devices on a scale of individual atoms and molecules.


hollow cylinder made of a single element, usually carbon.


(National Aeronautics and Space Administration) the U.S. space agency, whose mission statement is "To reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind."


energy, emitted as waves or particles, radiating outward from a source.


return of light, sound, or heat after being bounced off a surface.


healthy and strong.


object that orbits around something else. Satellites can be natural, like moons, or artificial.


base of hard material on which a non-moving organism grows. Also called substratum.