NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has come up with metallic “space fabrics” for use in space.
Using a technique called additive manufacturing – essentially 3D printing on an industrial scale – the team behind the fabrics was able to reduce costs and create the unique materials.
The four main features of the space fabrics are that they are reflective, foldable, strong and able to passively manage heat.
“We call it 4D printing because we can print both the geometry and the function of these materials”, said Raul Polit-Casillas, a systems engineer at NASA. “If 20th-century manufacturing was driven by mass production, then this is the mass production of functions”, he added.
According to NASA, the metallic fabrics could first be useful for large antennas and other deployable devices since the material is foldable and its shape is easily manipulated.
Eventually, the fabrics could be used to shield spacecrafts from meteorites or the harsh environmental conditions of other planets.
Looking even farther ahead, Polit-Casillas believes that astronauts might be able to print materials when they’re needed or even recycle old materials by breaking them down and reusing them. This could be critical for resource-scarce space missions.
“We are just scratching the surface of what’s possible”, said Andrew Shapiro-Scharlotta, whose office funds the research for the space fabrics. “The use of organic and non-linear shapes at no additional costs to fabrication will lead to more efficient mechanical designs.”
Polit-Casillas grew up surrounded by fabrics. His mother was a fashion designer and at a young age, he became fascinated with how materials are used in designs.
In addition to working on space fabrics, Polit-Casillas co-founded JPL’s Atelier, a workshop that uses additive manufacturing to produce rapid prototypes of advanced concepts.
In other NASA news, the space agency has just launched a searchable archive of all its mind-blowing images and videos. Take a few minutes to check it out!
Source and image: NASA