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Uses for Beryllium in Outer Space Discovery

From heat shields that protected NASA’s Mercury astronauts, to the orbital telescopes of tomorrow, beryllium materials have had a front seat in our nation’s extraordinary exploration of space.

Satellite Configuration in Space

Beryllium maintains a legendary role in constant pursuit of knowledge.

From NASA’s earliest days, when beryllium heat shields protected Mercury spacecraft during re-entry, scientists, designers, and engineers continue to depend on this stiff, lightweight and versatile material to meet their most demanding challenges.

Orbiting the earth. Beryllium serves on current NASA vehicles including the Space Shuttle, where it adds strength, dissipates heat and lightens weight in window frames and door systems. Beryllium components also fly in the Spitzer Space Telescope.

Roving the Red Planet. Two Mars Rover vehicles, Spirit and Opportunity, have far exceeded original expectations. Aluminum beryllium components helped protect the rovers on their landings, and then served again to unfold their drive-off ramps. Aluminum beryllium parts used in the Rovers’ rock exploration tools have helped our understanding of the planet.

Fixing Hubble. When the Hubble space telescope could not see clearly, its new “corrective lenses” were mounted in beryllium fixtures that met the requirements for lower weight, high stiffness and resistance to dimensional distortions brought on by extreme temperatures.

Looking ahead. The next-generation James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to deploy in 2014, will depend on a 6.5 meter beryllium mirror to see objects 200 times fainter than visible before. Such mirrors must combine high stiffness and lightweight with an extraordinarily smooth, precise and defect-free surface. And, they must retain their visual quality for decades in deep space, where temperatures never exceed minus 253 degrees Centigrade.

Recreating the conditions after the “Big Bang.” Scientist are utilizing beryllium components in earth-based particle accelerators to ensure high-energy collisions of subatomic particles, recreating the conditions that could provide clues as to how the universe was formed. In the European Organization for Nuclear Research’s (CERN) $10 billion Large Hadron Collider underground near Geneva, Switzerland, beryllium beam pipes surround the collision regions where experiments will be conducted.