3D-printed 'chain mail' could provide protection in space

2 May 2017

A "fabric" designed by NASA could one day provide protection in space, as well as be the basis for shape-changing surfaces. Bob Mezan reports. A new "fabric" designed at NASA'S Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California could one day alter the way astronauts and spacecraft are protected, as well as provide the basis for shape-changing surfaces.

The chain mail-looking fabrics are currently in a prototype stage - 3D printed from materials like stainless steel and carbon fiber. The process creates an entire fabric made of just one piece, eliminating the potential points of failure that come with welding materials together.

SYSTEMS ENGINEER, NASA’S JET PROPULSION LABORATORY, RAUL POLIT CASILLAS: "There's no connection. There's no welding. There is nothing like that. It's all one part and it's one single assembly. That not only makes integration much easier, but also allows you to play with geometries and shapes that you won't be able to do with any other process.

NASA hopes that the fabric could eventually provide protection for astronaut suits or act as spacecraft skins. They also hope that the fabric could eventually be a smart fabric - capable of molding itself into various shapes.

Fabrics could potentially be printed in space, meaning astronauts could create it as needed.

Implementation of the fabrics is still a long way off - perhaps ten years or more. But they represent, what could be, the future of safety, technology, and construction in space.