What are these capsules made of?

This is the Expedition 47 return capsule that brought Astronauts Yuri Malenchenko, Timothy Peake, and Timothy Kopra back to Earth.

According to IFL Science!:

The display of the Soyuz TMA-19M was possible thanks to a partnership with the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, and the spacecraft’s manufacturer, RSC Energia.


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There is more "char" in this photo, but copper-colored areas are still visible, lower right, and around flanges.


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This photo in IFL Science! shows the char starting to peel off on the left and right edge. 2X crops are shown first, with the first one modified for "cooler" color temperature to color-balance the exposed structural metal, followed by the original image:


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1 Answer 1


The outside of the Soyuz is covered in multilayer vacuum-screen thermal insulation, using layers of metalized film and fiberglass cloth.

The outer layer is black:

Soyuz during production, with black blankets wrapped around

During reentry, some of this burns off, exposing underlying layers, which char and burn off in turn. These layers start off with a lighter color:

Soyuz after reentry, showing lighter layers underneath

The Science Museum has some really weird lighting in places: it's very dark in parts of the museum, and the light is decidedly off-white, which makes the first two pictures in the question difficult to interpret. Here's the same capsule in decent lighting.

Soyuz capsule

  • $\begingroup$ At first this was difficult for me to imagine, but searching hiveminer.com/Tags/peake,museum/capsule finds i.stack.imgur.com/6KgeI.jpg as well as i.stack.imgur.com/g7FE2.jpg and considering it's the roughly 45 degree sloped areas near the top that are so bright in those photos, carefully placed, tinted lights from above might do all kinds of things to make the display more "attractive" to the public. And as you suggest, the multilayer insulation may have some interesting, not-so-simple optical properties as well. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Apr 21, 2017 at 2:15
  • $\begingroup$ Can you check out the details I've just added - do you think that both the black charred layer shown peeling off, and the redder material underneath are just different layers of the same stuff? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Apr 21, 2017 at 2:29
  • $\begingroup$ @uhoh: Compare those two images, especially the the text "TIM PEAKE'S SPACECRAFT". The letters are white in one image, but there ist a red tint in the other image at the letters and the blue background. Also compare the pedestal below the spacecraft, its black in one image and brown in the other. The shadows below are gray in g7FE2.jpg, but in 6KgeI.jpg there is one shadow with a red tint and another shadow with a blue tint. Those different shadows come from two different light sources with very different colour temperatures. Under such lighting a neutral coloured image is impossible. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Apr 21, 2017 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Uwe Yep, I see what you mean. I hadn't even looked at the floor or the sign, they appear totally different in the two pics. It's really amazing how much is being done with lighting, and how it seems to be different both spatially and temporally, as if they are experimenting with different techniques. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Apr 21, 2017 at 15:26
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh: I think the charred layer and the lighter one underneath are the same material, but that's just speculation on my part. The linked answer has as much detail as I was able to find on the MLI, I haven't seen pictures of the MLI being applied so no idea what it looks like before it's flambéed. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbes
    Apr 21, 2017 at 19:28

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