The Role of Glass in Astronomy and Space Applications


In the early 1600s, Galileo designed his first telescope based on his knowledge of earlier magnification technology from Dutch inventors. Since then, glass has continued to play an essential role in astronomy and aerospace applications. Common use cases for the material include optics in telescopes and windows in space vehicles. In both situations, the equipment employed must be designed and built to withstand extreme conditions without failure. The following blog post discusses why glass is an appropriate material option.

Properties That Are Out of This World

glass in astronomy and space applications

Telescopes utilize optical assemblies (e.g., mirrors and lenses) to collect, reflect, and/or focus light to create an accurate and clear image of a targeted area of space. Space vehicles feature windows to provide astronauts with a direct view of their surroundings. Despite vastly different functions and applications, both types of equipment rely on durable and reliable glass components to function. The main reasons astronomers and aerospace engineers utilize glass for these parts are: 

  • Thermal stability. The glass used in astronomical equipment is different from the glass used in ordinary applications. It exhibits excellent thermal stability, meaning it does not significantly change in volume when exposed to changes in temperature. This quality is essential for the optical components of telescopes as any changes in their size or shape would negatively affect the accuracy and clarity of images. 
  • Thermal shock resistance. Thermal shock refers to the stresses and strains experienced by a material when it is exposed to sudden changes in temperature. One of the common consequences is cracking. In manned space expeditions, such a loss of structural integrity in any component—especially external parts—can prove catastrophic. For this reason, the windows in space vehicles are made from glass with excellent thermal shock resistance. The material can withstand the extreme cold of outer space (~3 K), the extreme heat emanating from the sun, the fluctuating temperatures as the vehicle moves closer to or farther from the sun, and the intensity of a fiery reentry through the Earth’s atmosphere.  

SCHOTT SUPREMAX 33®: The Superior Glass for Space Applications

As indicated above, the glass used in space exploration equipment must demonstrate specific qualities. SCHOTT SUPREMAX 33® is quickly becoming the material of choice for telescopes. The rolled borosilicate glass offers the same properties of SCHOTT BOROFLOAT® 33, such as: 

  • Low thermal expansion
  • High thermal resistance
  • Excellent light transmissivity
  • Exceptional chemical durability
  • Low material density (12% lighter than soda lime glass)

Additionally, it is available in a wider range of thicknesses (up to 66.7 millimeters) since it is made with SCHOTT’S unique rolling technology. This quality, among others, makes it highly suitable for telescope mirror blanks and lenses. 


Contact the Glass Fabrication Experts at Swift Glass Today

In astronomy and aerospace applications, high-quality glass is paramount. If you’re looking for a glass fabricator that fully understands your needs and is fully committed to providing you with the right solution, Swift Glass is here to help. We carry a broad selection of glass materials—including SCHOTT SUPREMAX 33—to suit various applications. To learn more about our glass fabrication capabilities or collaborate with us on your next astronomy or aerospace project, contact us today.

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