NASA has long been associated with developing ground breaking and cutting-edge technologies – from memory foam that we all now find in our bed mattresses to no scratch lenses, to freeze drying now used in food preparation – but one of NASA’s latest inventions seems more like it harks back to medieval times.
The latest development is actually a new chainmail material made from stainless steel. Designed to fulfil a number of rolls within the space exploration plan, the material is light weight - important when the cost of NASA missions works out at around $10,000 per pound – and strong, and cane be folded down to minimise the space is takes up. The flexible nature also means that the material can be used in a wide variety of forms and shapes for different purposes.
The chainmail is made from large numbers of tiny interlocking stainless steel squares, which are different on each side. The outer sides are mirror polished in order to reflect heat and light, whilst the loops on the inner faces are design to absorb heat from the inside and transfer it to the outer face. The fact that strong stainless steel is used to produce the material, means the chainmail does very much act like armour, protecting the out layer of space craft and suits from space debris.
The space age mail is formed by using the equally space age technique of 4D printing, that uses a 3D printer to deposit multiple layers of stainless steel in varying structural geometries. The idea behind the varying layer is that the material can be imbued with predictable reactive properties – for example it can be ‘programmed’ to change shape at certain temperatures.
The fact that the material can be 3D printed is particularly useful given that 3D printers are often fairly compact. This means that astronauts could actually print the material themselves using equipment onboard the space craft, to provide flexible solutions to issues encountered when in outer space. This approach obviously lens itself very well to extended space travel such a possible first manned landings on Mars.
Whilst NASA has only started to scratch the surface of what might be possible with 4D printing, it is clear that it will become an important and integral part of future developments, with the potential to create fabrics that might be able to form complex shapes on command, move electrons to transfer energy.
You probably won’t find any of DSM’s products being fired into space any time soon, but our stainless steel worktops can look ‘out of this world’ once installed – perfect for your individual ‘space’!