NASA ‘4D’-printed chainmail may one day protect spacecraft from meteors


NASA may one day use a sort of chainmail to protect its spacecraft from meteors, among other things, thanks to so-called ‘4D’-printed technology. The material, though it appears to be created from many small parts, is in fact created as a solid sheet, and astronauts may one day be able to print their own version of it while in space. As the photo shows, the metallic material is flexible and can be folded, allowing it to be used on a variety of objects.

The material was created by Jet Propulsion Laboratory systems engineer Raul Polit Casillas and his colleagues, who are making different types of woven metal fabrics for space applications, according to the space agency. One possible use for the chainmail-like material is to protect spacecraft from meteor impacts in space — it and things similar to it may also be useful in spacesuits, for snagging space objects, and more.

This is one of many types of advanced fabrics the team is working on, according to NASA, which explains that such fabrics are created using what it calls ‘4D’ printing — that is, printing complex materials using multiple components that are applied in layers, allowing for a multi-surface type of fabric.

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The fabrics created could be tailored to specific purposes, for example having better thermal properties than other types of fabrics. With this chainmail-like fabric, NASA says one side of it reflects light, the other side absorbs light, and that it’s able to withstand pulling forces while offering ‘passive heat management.’