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Preserving Aerospace Heritage on Outdoor Display: Examining the Performance of Protective Coatings on Painted Aluminum for Preventative Maintenance

2017 PTT Grant, U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Museum Foundation, $27,700


Over the last six decades the United States manufactured several varieties of launch vehicles to be used in military and civilian spaceflight programs. During that period, NASA and museum institutions have placed launch vehicles on permanent outdoor display across the United States. While launch vehicles are designed to withstand extreme temperatures and stresses briefly encountered during spaceflight, they are not designed to endure decades of outdoor weathering exposure. Eventually, these outdoor artifacts fall into disrepair from effects of long-term weathering. Protective coatings become compromised and expose the aluminum alloy skin to the water vapor and salt in the atmosphere. Eventually the metal substrate will corrode in this environment. Rockets on outdoor display in marine environments with heightened levels of atmospheric corrosivity are especially vulnerable.

Protective coatings can provide an additional barrier between the painted metal substrate of the artifact and the surrounding outdoor environment. Such coatings are often implemented as a preventative maintenance technique for other types of metal artifacts on outdoor display. This research program will explore the usefulness of different sacrificial protective coatings on the painted aluminum surface of the outdoor rocket artifact. A selection of nine industry standard protective coatings will be applied to samples of the painted aluminum surface of a rocket and subjected to in-situ weathering, outdoor accelerated weathering, and indoor accelerated weathering using laboratory instrumentation. The results of this research will determine if one or more of the tested sacrificial protective coatings will provide effective protection to the painted aluminum in an outdoor exposure.

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National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
645 University Parkway
Natchitoches, LA 71457

Email: ncptt[at]
Phone: (318) 356-7444
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