Woven metal fabric for space travel

July 1st, 2017 / By: / Projects

A patchwork of metal squares, this space fabric is created with unique functionalities built in. The developers are looking toward a future where this and other materials could be printed on demand in space. Photo: NASAJPL-Caltech.

Maybe it’s the Game of Thrones effect, because these days, metal fabrics are super hip. And just like the practical purpose they served in medieval times, a new woven metal fabric being developed by NASA can be put to use in a number of ways.

Raul Polit Casillas, a systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is leading the effort along with his colleagues to develop the material. Casillas comes by his interest in fabric naturally—his mother is a fashion designer in Spain, and he was always interested in design.

The woven metal fabrics resemble chain mail, but are much more sophisticated. To begin with, these fabrics aren’t sewn; they are printed using an industrial 3-D printer. This additive manufacturing technique deposits material in layers to create the material, which has four essential functions: reflectivity, passive heat management, ability to fold and tensile strength.

These functions are added during the manufacturing process. For example, one side of the fabric can reflect light while the other absorbs it for thermal control. In addition, the fabric can fold in different ways and adapt to shapes
while sustaining the force of pulling on it.

Possible uses for the fabric include spacesuits, spacecraft insulation or even as a shield against meteorites. The fabric could also potentially be used for large antennas and other deployable devices. Or, its folding properties could be used to create a smooth walkway on uneven terrain. For more information, visit www.jpl.nasa.gov.

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