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Screenshots below are from Brian May's new music video Brian May - New Horizons (Ultima Thule Mix) [Official Music Video] The beginning shows the launch of a rocket.

I can't tell for sure if this is just CGI or if it is actual footage, but I assume that it is 100% CGI.

Even so, does this rendering represent some actual use of copper on the outside of a launch vehicle? Is there some fact behind the fiction, or is this just weird and inexplicable?

(there are few other technical problems in the video as well)

enter image description here

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ New Horizons launched on a Atlas V. Atlas V rocket bodies are copper colored. Is that what this question is about? spaceflightnow.com/atlas/av045/images/a5family_full.jpg $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble holy granola!!! Yes that is exactly what this question is about! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble I'm now very curious why it is like that. I was certain that it was a CGI goof! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 13:50

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It's not copper.

enter image description here

...color of an anodized aluminum surface.

ULA anodizes its Atlas V tank panels. That color results from the specific anodization process they use, combined with the specific aluminum alloy they use.

So, why does anodization produces this specific color? Anodization is a method to increase the thickness of the oxidized layer on a metal surface--for aluminum, that's aluminum oxide, aka corundum. Aluminum is a very soft metal, but corundum is a mineral second only to diamond in hardness. It should be apparent that the Atlas panels are anodized to increase its physical and chemical resistance to damage and wear.

The anodization process not only introduces new chemicals which could bond with the anodizing surface--my source mentions and shows sulfuric, chromic, and nitric acid used--but the process also forms microscopic holes. Perhaps those also cause light to be scattered in a specific way that produces the distinctive color? That's all I can offer--I suspect a more detailed answer is beyond the scope of this stack exchange--Chemistry is probably a good place to ask, though.

It is mentioned that the color matures as the panels sit in the atmosphere post-anodization, so that should help narrow the exact mechanism down.

Source: Tory Bruno. (Want slightly more context? Strongly encourage you to watch the entire video.)

EDIT: In some rather coincidental timing (or perhaps a ULA employee is a Stack Exchange user?), the day after I wrote this answer, ULA tweeted the following confirmation:

"The #AtlasV stages are anodized, which is an electrochemical process that gives the metal surface a corrosion-resistant finish that is bronze in color."

EDIT #2: Tory Bruno himself dropped a juicy tidbit on Twitter today, suggesting that the unique color is caused by a coating of Tiodize applied after anodization. Thanks, Tory!

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for confirming it's anodized aluminum! Great job finding a source. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 2:45
  • $\begingroup$ Cool update, thanks! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jan 27, 2022 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ Tiodize seems to be for titanium? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 27, 2022 at 21:28
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble Huh. it's clear as mud to me $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 27, 2022 at 21:34
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New Horizons launched on an Atlas V. Atlas V rocket bodies are copper colored.

enter image description here

from here

enter image description here

from here

Quick searches as to why turned up little conclusive information. There are unconvincing discussions on nasaspaceflight.com and reddit. The Atlas V User's Guide confirms that the tanks are made of aluminum, so the speculations about the color being some kind of anodized or other coating are likely correct, but I have not found any information about why it comes out coppery.

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    $\begingroup$ larger size: apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap020916.html $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 14:05
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    $\begingroup$ a Faraday cage around the fuel tanks and not around the electronics (which are on the second stage) makes little sense. And the aluminium of the tank walls is already a Faraday cage. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbes
    Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 14:14
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    $\begingroup$ I would be extremely surprised if it had anything to do with electronics. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 14:18
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    $\begingroup$ I thought about Kapton as well but keeping it attached seems unlikely. The nsf thread has a post denying the chromate hypothesis. Both are weighted equally imho (zero, because unreferenced). $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 17:49
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh it's copper covered with frost. Notice the white is only on the LOX tank. i.pinimg.com/originals/d8/4a/60/… $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 4:30

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