Skip to main content

NASA has developed a futuristic 3D-printed ‘space fabric’

NASA Space Fabric
Never an organization to knowingly fall behind in the world of cutting-edge tech, NASA has taken 3D printing to the next level by developing chainmail-style “4D” printed metal fabrics for use in future space missions.

“We call it ‘4-D printing’ because we can print both the geometry and the function of these materials,” Raul Polit-Casillas, a systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who helped lead the research team, said in a press release. “If 20th-century manufacturing was driven by mass production, then this is the mass production of functions.”

One side of the new space material is designed to reflect light, while the other side absorbs it — thereby allowing it to function as a thermal control for passive heat management. It can also fold in many different ways, and adapt to different shapes. Most exciting of all, however, is the fact that NASA is working to “program” in new abilities all the time.

“I can program new functions into the material I’m printing,” Casillas said. “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.”

Because of its versatility, NASA thinks its new wonder material could be used for future space suits for astronauts, for large antennas and other deployable devices, for capturing objects on the surface of other planets, or for insulating future spacecraft. One interesting use case involves using it to fold over uneven terrain on something like Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, so that it could form “‘feet’ that won’t melt the ice” beneath astronauts.

Another big requirement being taken into consideration is the ability to not only have materials that can be 3D printed as and when needed, but also ones which can be broken down and reused when no longer required.

We’re still a way off from this particular material being used in space, but it’s certainly fascinating to see how seriously NASA is taking the additive manufacturing revolution.

Plus, we’d be lying if we said that the thought of future chainmail-wearing space knights doesn’t fill us with excitement!

Editors' Recommendations

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
AMD is bringing 3D V-Cache back to Ryzen 7000 — but there’s a twist
AMD Ryzen 7 5800X3D socketed in a motherboard.

Great news for AMD fans -- the company has now officially confirmed that it will be bringing back 3D V-Cache in the upcoming Ryzen 7000 processors, as well as future Zen 5 CPUs.

Unfortunately, there is a catch -- it seems that the technology will still not be as widespread as some may have hoped for.

Read more
Check out this cool NASA image of SpaceX Crew-3’s ride home
A SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft docked at the ISS.

A stunning image shared by NASA shows the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endurance spacecraft at the International Space Station (ISS) just a few days before it brings home the Crew-3 astronauts.

Crew Dragon Endurance docked at the International Space Station about 250 miles above Earth. NASA

Read more
NASA’s private Ax-1 crew gets some extra time in space
The Ax-1 crew aboard the space station.

NASA’s first private astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) are getting a bit of extra time in space for their multimillion-dollar fees.

Poor weather conditions at the landing site off the coast of Florida has prompted NASA to delay the departure from the ISS by about 12 hours. Calm sea conditions are needed to allow the recovery vessel to safely approach the capsule after it lands in the water.

Read more