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'Space Fabric’: Fashion Meets Engineering

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    Design Design Apr 21, 2017 03:40 PM EDT

    Raul Polit Casillas and his colleagues are creating advanced woven metal fabrics for space use. The space fabric serves a potential use for large antennas and other deployable devices.

    Polit Casillas, a systems engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, grew up around fabrics since young with his mother, a fashion designer in Spain. According to NASA, it would serve a primary function as spacecraft shield from meteorites, spacesuits for astronauts, and even to capture objects on the surface of another planet.

    The essential functions drill down to passive heat management, reflectivity, foldability and tensile strength. While one side of the fabric reflects light, the other absorbs it and acts as a thermal control. The space fabric can also fold in different ways and adapt to various shapes while sustaining the force pulling on it.

    The prototypes that Polit Casillas and colleagues created for the space fabric resemble a chain mail look, with small silver squares interlocking one another. The one-piece fabric is printed using advanced technologies, according to Communications of the ACM.

    3-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is necessary to make the space fabric. Additive manufacturing deposits material in layers to build up the desired object, which unlike traditional marketing, reduces production cost and increases the ability to create unique materials.

    Andrew Shapiro-Scharlotta of JPL, who funds early-stage technologies research like the space fabric, said that fabricating spacecraft designs can be often complex and costly. He did, however, say that the process would turn out a whole lot cheaper if multiple functions were added to a material at different stages of development.

    More design-based thinking like the space fabric would revolutionize the art of engineering for spacecraft. With newer functions and study on potentials points of failure, the future of spacecraft of the future definitely looks much bigger and viable.

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