Did you know that the Belgian company Solvay participates in space exploration?


Do you remember that “one small step for man, one giant leap for man-kind” that happened on July 20th, 1969? Probably, but did you know that Belgian technology played an important role in that historical moment?

Indeed: Solvay, a company almost as old as Belgium, was crucial to the success of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

The first men on the moon, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, (and their crewmate Michael Collins) of course needed top-notch space suits to protect them as they made their groundbreaking first steps on the lunar surface, and those couldn’t have been complete without a touch of Belgian know-how.

The astronauts on the Apollo 11 space mission had visors made of Udel polysulfone (PSU) polymer, which had been developed just four years earlier by the Belgian chemical giant Solvay. The polymer was chosen for its ability to withstand very high temperatures and for its tough and transparent character.

But Solvay has been helping space exploration for longer than that, and in different areas. The company’s technology is all over spaceships, in fact. For example, several Solvay products are present in the rockets.

More recently, Solvay materials were involved in the successful launch of the much-publicized James Webb telescope, which was designed to be 100 times more powerful than the famous Hubble telescope that came before it. The company provided carbon fiber and “various ablative materials and structural adhesives” to help make the mission a success, and the new telescope has already captured beautifully detailed images for all to admire.

In October 2022, Solvay opened a brand-new research centre at Wichita State University in Kansas, USA, together with the university’s National Institute for Aviation Research. At this facility, aviation companies will be able to develop, test and prototype new technology, thus keeping Solvay at the forefront of innovation.

The company, which is now a major player on a global and, dare we say, indeed galactic scale was founded in 1863 by two young brothers, Alfred and Ernest Solvay. It claims to be “one of the earliest companies to go multinational” and that the company “had plants both wholly owned and through partnerships extending from Michigan to the Urals” by the 1880s, just two decades after the company came into existence.

That’s a series of small steps for a Belgian company, a series of giant leaps for man-kind.