From Outer Space: NASA Protects Ships and Astronauts with a 3D-Printed Chain Mail

NASA engineers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory succeeded in 3D printing chain mail coming with ideal properties for its use in astronautics.

chain mail

Image Source: https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/images/technology/20170418/spaceFabric20170418b.jpg – NASA

Can you imagine a medieval safety method protecting ships and astronauts in outer space? NASA engineers have developed a 3D printing technique able to beam chain mail from the Middle Ages to the here and now. Dreams of the future? No! At least, not for much longer.

3D-Printed Metallic Fabric as a Thermal Management System

A team around Raul Polit Casillas from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California made it possible. Using materials such as stainless steel and carbon fiber they succeeded in 3D printing a special metallic fabric in one piece. Every side comes with its own properties: The top reflects light and thereby allows for a passive heat management, whereas the bottom is able to absorb heat and thus serves as insulation.

Although technically the innovation is made by a 3D printer, Polit Casillas prefers speaking of a 4D-printed result:

“We call it 4D printing because we can print both the geometry and the function of these materials. […] If 20th century manufacturing was driven by mass production, then this is the mass production of functions.”

A Real Allrounder in Space and on Earth

Currently, the invention is still at a prototype stage, but it already has the potential to revolutionize spacecraft. After all, it can easily be 3D-printed right on the spot – be it on a space station or on Earth. This makes its production process way faster than it used to be back in the days when creating chain mail has been about real craftsmanship.

Furthermore, it is foldable and able to shift shape easily. This makes it the perfect choice for the use in space suits or as shielding for vehicles. And who knows, maybe it helps us settling on other planets one day.

What do you think: How else can 3D printing drive the exploration of space? For more ideas, check out our blog article on how 3D printing benefits astronautics.