How to

1 May 2017

NASA Develops 3D-Printed Material with Thermal Management

Img: NASA 
Space-suits are made to keep astronauts protected and warm in temperatures that can get extremely low in space. They include a liquid cooling and ventilation garment (LCVG) as explained in our previous post, which regulates and controls body temperature.

NASA has recently developed a flexible, durable chainmail material which could be used to protect space crafts and astronauts. The versatile metal material was designed by son of Spanish fashion designer Raul Polit Casillas at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. At the forefront of textile design, Polit Casillas and his colleagues have created prototypes of chainmail through advanced 3D printing technology.

The 3D printing method, known formally as additive manufacturing, makes the cost of production cheaper and allows unique materials to be created. “I can program new functions into the material I'm printing. That also reduces the amount of time spent on integration and testing. You can print, test and destroy material as many times as you want,” Polit Caillas said.

The four main functions of the new material are reflectivity, foldability, tensile strength and passive heat management. The chainmail has the potential to protect astronauts by temperature control, as well as insulating spacecrafts from extreme temperatures such as those encountered on Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa. The insulating properties of the material are due to its reflective surfaces; one side reflects light while the other absorbs it, providing temperature regulation.

The team behind the material want to trial it in space in the future, as well as ultimately allow it to be manufactured in space too. Polit Caillas continues:

“In the distant future, astronauts might be able to print materials as they're needed -- and even recycle old materials, breaking them down and reusing them. Conservation is critical when you're trapped in space with just the resources you take with you.”

With NASA’s chainmail material being both durable and versatile, additive manufacturing techniques like 3D printing could revolutionise spacecraft engineering and functional astronaut clothing in the future. 

Laura Sewell

An aspiring journalist, Laura is our content writer intern.  Pop-punk gig-goer and drag queen enthusiast, Laura is working her way into the industry with an English A -Level and love of writing about anything and everything in tow.