When many of us hear the word ‘fabrics’, we immediately think of avant-garde, haute couture dresses, the latest fashions from Paris, or ‘who-is-wearing-who’ on the Red Carpet. In space exploration, however, fabrics have more applications than for just snazzy clothes, like antennas, spacesuits and shields for spacecraft.
Raul Polit Casillas, a systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is the son of a fashion designer from Spain, so he grew up familiar with fabrics. Now he is applying his knowledge and skills to develop woven metal fabrics for applications in space.
The fabrics that Polit Casillas and his colleagues are not hand-sewn but are 3-D printed, using a technique called additive manufacturing, which is cheaper and can be used to create unique materials. This could also help reduce the costs of building complex, expensive spacecraft. Fabrics can be manufactured for reflectivity, passive heave management, foldability and tensile strength. For example, one side of a fabric reflects light while the other absorbs it. It can be folded and cut into necessary shapes.
One of the most important applications could be for spacesuits for astronauts. A fabric that has heat-generating properties can be printed to keep astronauts and spacecraft warm. It could also be used to help explorers walk on uneven terrain and not melt the ice underneath them.
I previously reported in a post that structures on Mars could be 3-D printed, and now fabrics and materials can be created with similar technology.
But at first, clothes will be have to be manufactured for substance, rather than style. Sorry, fashionistas!