Soon Astronauts Will Be Decked Out in Intergalactic Chain Mail

NASA's 3-D printed space fabric is all function, some fashion

April 24, 2017 9:00 am

That’s one small step for man, and one giant leap for man looking very cool in space. 

NASA last week unveiled prototype swatches of its newfangled “space fabric,” which upon first glance, looks a whole lot like medieval chain mail — or something you’d see on the runways of Milan. Either way.

But this being NASA, function trumps fashion. The 3D-printed space fabric, developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, aims to provide four key functions: reflectivity, foldability, tensile strength and passive heat management.

What makes the metallic textile so impressive is its ability to be shaped and folded, which gives it endless versatility in space. From functioning as customizable antennas and shielding aircrafts, to insulating spacesuits, NASA says there’s really nothing the new fabric can’t do. 

Made from layers that build off one another as opposed to being assembled piece by piece (a process they’re calling 4D-printing, for the record), the way the fabric is constructed means future spaceships could actually be printed “whole cloth” in space out of materials that could theoretically be programmed to serve multiple functions.

“We are just scratching the surface of what’s possible,” said JPL designer Andrew Shapiro-Scharlott. “The use of organic and non-linear shapes at no additional costs to fabrication will lead to more efficient mechanical designs.”

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