Scientists at NASA’s Langley Research Center are studying new materials that can self-heal in seconds under extreme temperatures and from flying space junk.
The research is a combination of work from a student on fellowship at NASA from the University of Michigan and nearly a decade-and-a-half of study on self-healing materials for both aircrafts and spacecrafts.
NASA scientists said it works much like a puncture healing in the body, but faster. The organically designed polymers respond to energetic events such as space debris – or bullets – rapidly hitting the material. The material’s chemistry activates on impact to help plug a hole or leak to repair the craft potentially within less than a second.
It was gratifying to see as we actually test this material on the field it actually works.
Testing actually involves shooting a bullet through the material to see how it reacts after penetration. The small molecules of the polymer substance the material is made of flows around the bullet when it hits the matter, but the structural integrity of the material stays intact.
This is because the polymer reacts to heating. “As the bullet goes in it actually raises the temperature around the region,” NASA scientists Mia Siochi explained in a video about the project. “It was gratifying to see as we actually test this material on the field it actually works.”
This substance not only has life-saving applications for astronauts, but also future use in consumer products as well. Imagine getting a dent in your car and it immediately popping back to its original structure.
NASA told TechCrunch this is still early days and it is working to improve on the tensile strength of these polymers, but there is progress here. The material works well enough that it could be used on the next human space mission.