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NASA Creates ‘Fabric’ For The Galaxy and Beyond

Posted on April 26th, 2017 by in New Materials & Applications

NASA Space Fabric

Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech [PD NASA] via NASA.gov

Every seasoned business traveler knows the importance of breathable fabrics for comfort during the journey and if it doesn’t fit in the carry-on rollaway, you pick it up at your destination. However, when planning for exotic destinations like Mars, NASA can now use additive manufacturing to print custom fabrics along the journey and for more than just spacesuits.

Engineering teams at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California have extended the concept of textiles to create a metallic “space fabric”. Using 3D printing, they can design advanced woven fabrics from metal for use in space applications. Since the fabric is built in layers and can combine a variety of different materials with a range of properties, each side of the fabric can perform divergent functions. Besides spacesuits, space fabrics could also provide meteorite shields, radiation insulation blankets, terrain stabilization, or other applications where flexibility and alternate functions are needed on either side of a membrane.

According to Raul Polit Casillas, a systems engineer working on the project at NASA JPL,”We call it ‘4-D printing’ because we can print both the geometry and the function of these materials. If 20th Century manufacturing was driven by mass production, then this is the mass production of functions.”

Unlike traditional weaving manufacturing techniques, additive manufacturing has enabled production techniques not otherwise possible. The capability to manufacture needed tools and objects insitu as previously discussed in this article simplifies the logistical planning for the seven month trip to mars and the necessity of transporting all finished goods from Earth. NASA is developing alternative methods of space transportation such as the HELIOS which could also leverage advancements in space fabrics. Learn more about the HELIOS and the solar sail concept in the following video hosted on YouTube:

It’s remarkable to me how the human quest for knowledge has enabled our species to not only understand the environment around us, but shape it to our will. By launching the satellite Sputnik just sixty years ago, the Soviet Union prompted mankind to look skyward. Shortly after, President John F. Kennedy proposed the goal “of landing a man on the Moon by the end of [the 1960’s,] and returning him safely to the Earth.” If NASA remains on plan, I’ll be able to witness first hand humans on Mars by the mid-2030’s. That will be another “giant leap for mankind”.

If given the opportunity, would you be willing to make the journey to Mars? Tell us about your quest for unconventional knowledge and what it could mean for the future of your products or companies. Share your thoughts in the comments section below and don’t forget to follow us on your favorite social media channel.


All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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