The connection between radiant barriers and NASA or the space program and reflective insulation is not quite accurate. Sure, radiant barrier technology became important to the space program but aluminum foil insulation was already available in the construction industry 30 years earlier, as far back as 1940.
In many cases you will hear that the current radiant barrier technology used in today’s construction industry stemmed from our missions to space and unfortunately that is not true. What is true is that many consumer goods were created after NASA worked with the technology. This is what people are identifying with.
Here is where we stand today. The current use of radiant barrier technology in space exploration is now defined as multi-layer insulation or MLI.
“Multi-layer insulation, or MLI, is thermal insulation composed of multiple layers of thin sheets often used on spacecraft. It is one of the main items of the spacecraft thermal design, primarily intended to reduce heat loss by thermal radiation. In its basic form, it does not appreciably insulate against other thermal losses such as heat conduction or convection. It is therefore commonly used on satellites and other applications in vacuum where conduction and convection are much less significant and radiation dominates. MLI gives many satellites and other space probes the appearance of being covered with gold foil.”
Click here to read the entire Wikipedia article on multi-layer Insulation