NASA’s designed advanced woven metal Space fabrics for use in space.
These fabrics could potentially be useful for large antennas and other deployable devices, because the material is foldable and its shape can change quickly.
The fabrics could also eventually be used to shield a spacecraft from meteorites, for astronaut spacesuits, or for capturing objects on the surface of another planet. One potential use might be for an icy moon like Jupiter’s Europa, where these fabrics could insulate the spacecraft.
At the same time, this flexible material could fold over uneven terrain, creating “feet” that won’t melt the ice under them.
A technique called additive manufacturing otherwise known as 3-D printing on an industrial scale, is necessary to make such fabrics. Unlike traditional manufacturing techniques, in which parts are welded together, additive manufacturing deposits material in layers to build up the desired object. This reduces the cost and increases the ability to create unique materials.
Adding multiple functions to a material at different stages of development could make the whole process cheaper. It could also open the door to new designs.
The space fabrics have four essential functions: reflectivity, passive heat management, foldability and tensile strength.
One side of the fabric reflects light, while the other absorbs it, acting as a means of thermal control. It can fold in many different ways and adapt to shapes while still being able to sustain the force of pulling on it.
But it would also be critical to think about new forms. Print a single plate of aluminum, and it has limited functionality. Print the same plate using a heat-radiating design, and suddenly it’s more useful. Spacecraft housing could have different functionality on its outsides and insides, becoming more than just structural.
This kind of design-based thinking could revolutionize the way spacecraft are engineered. Instead of having to assemble something with dozens of parts, all of which create potential points of failure, the spacecraft of the future could be created “whole cloth”—and with added function, as well