While Anish Kapoor is brainstorming how he'll make artwork with his exclusive rights to Vantablack, a black material so dark it absorbs 99.964% of light, scientist are plastering their satellites with the stuff to help them see the universe better. The eerie thing about the material, developed by Surrey NanoSystems, is that it obliterates all texture from a surface, as far as the eye can tell, an effect you can see working on crinkled tin foil that looks like an endless void in the video below. Well, it turns out the material also works a bit of magic on a satellite's star tracker, a kind of sensor that tells the satellite where it is and what it's looking at based on the position of heavenly bodies.
These guys are easily tricked by stray light from the sun and whatever non-star entities are floating around reflecting light into their eyes, as well as internal reflections. That's where Vantablack's super light-absorbing powers come in. Surrey NanoSystems has teamed up with Berlin Space Technology to coat a part of their Kent Ridge 1 satellite's sensors, which Tom Segert, Director of Business Development for Berlin Space Technology, says will, "reduce the effects of many common sources of error that affect the performance of star tracker systems."
Kent Ridge 1 was launched into orbit in December, so there is currently a chunk of Vantablack hurtling around our planet, enhancing our ability to know the universe. Kapoor, himself a star as far as the art world is concerned, may be able to draw from these rich themes of perception, space, and exploration in the work he creates with the stuff.
Kapoor recently published photos of himself handling the material on Instagram, including a close-up of an intense black void captioned, "Kapoor Black." It looks like nothing, a universe with no Earth, no life, no stars, no debri, not even a hint of chaos. Vantablack's inherent visual connection to empty space may do the thematic legwork for him.