In the Starship Update at about 21:05 Musk says:

We’ve gone through various iterations of heat shield, there’s a lot of ways to skin a cat here. Ultimately we decided to have a heat shield of hexagonal tiles, ceramic tiles that are basically like a tiny glass vermicelli at a microstructure level; very light but very crack-resistant, essentially glass tiles.

Question: What might the description "tiny glass vermicelli at a microstructure level" refer to? Is it something like a compressed, fused glass wool?

  • $\begingroup$ Vermicelli means literally little worms. By similarity, vermicelli is a kind of spaghetti pasta, just the calibre is small. Like asian noodles. They were just using the world pictorially, and tiny glass spaghetti would have been clearer (tiny is already there) at least for an international audience. $\endgroup$
    – Alchimista
    Oct 3, 2019 at 9:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Alchimista international in what way? Was the presentation in Italy? ;-) (humor) $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Oct 3, 2019 at 9:27
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    $\begingroup$ I have no idea where it was. I said if they wanted to reach a broader international audience using a clearer pictorial description,they could have used rice noodles or spaghetti, which are known everywhere instead of vermicelli, which are not. $\endgroup$
    – Alchimista
    Oct 3, 2019 at 9:36

1 Answer 1


Difficult to know for sure, as with all things Musk, but likely it's similar to the shuttle Fibrous Refractory Composite Insulation (FRCI) tiles.

The FRCI tiles are a high strength tile derived by adding AB312 (alumina-borosilicate fiber), called Nextel, to the pure silica tile slurry. These tiles are developed by the 3M Company of St. Paul, Minn. The Nextel activates boron fusion and kind of welds the pure silica fibers into a rigid structure while being sintered. Because the tile is 20% Nextel and 80% silica the tile has different physical properties than the original 99.8% silica tile.

From here, emphasis mine.

enter image description here

Slide from here: https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20120016878.pdf

  • $\begingroup$ I hope this does not lead to the Starship having all the problems that the Space Shuttle did with tiles. $\endgroup$
    – ikrase
    Mar 1, 2020 at 2:46

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