The coatings will adjust to changes that a spacecraft sees, such as going from Earth's warm and humid environment into extreme cold of space, without failing. They consist of thin layers of carbon nanotubes, polymers, and ceramic. Expected applications include bearings for antenna pointing systems, gyroscopes and inertia wheels, slip rings for electrical contacts, and transmission components.

“First we will work to create a series of specially designed materials, or nanocomposites,” says Pulickel Ajayan, Rensselaer professor of materials engineering. “Then we expect to develop some critical tools to test the materials, measure their lifespan and lubricating performance, and finally develop computer models to simulate the molecular dynamics,” he adds.