This website uses cookies primarily for visitor analytics. Certain pages will ask you to fill in contact details to receive additional information. On these pages you have the option of having the site log your details for future visits. Indicating you want the site to remember your details will place a cookie on your device. To view our full cookie policy, please click here. You can also view it at any time by going to our Contact Us page.

Self-healing material could plug life-threatening holes in spacecraft

28 August 2015

For astronauts living in space with objects passing by them at speeds of 22,000mph, it’s important to have alternative protection against these rogue super-bullets.

The self-healing material sanwiches a reactive liquid in between two layers of a solid polymer (image: University of Michigan)

While shields and avoidance manoeuvres might help protect space structures, scientists have to prepare for the possibility that debris could pierce a space craft. In the journal ACS Macro Letters, one team reports on a new material that heals itself within seconds and could prevent a structural penetration turning into a catastrophic event.

It’s hard to imagine a place more inhospitable to life than space. Yet humans have managed to travel and live there thanks to meticulous engineering. The International Space Station, equipped with 'bumpers' that vaporise debris before it can hit the station walls, is the most heavily-shielded spacecraft ever flown, according to NASA.

But should these bumpers fail, a wall breach would allow life-sustaining air to gush out of astronauts’ living quarters. The University of Michigan's Timothy F. Scott and colleagues wanted to develop a back-up defence.

The researchers developed a new kind of self-healing material by sandwiching a reactive liquid in between two layers of a solid polymer. When they shot a bullet through it, the liquid quickly reacted with oxygen from the air to form a solid plug in under a second. The researchers say the technology could also apply to other, more earth-bound structures, including cars.

The authors acknowledge funding from NASA for this work.

Video source: American Chemical Society

Print this page | E-mail this page

Coda Systems