NASA is taking things right into the future of textiles with an out-of-this-world metallic material designed to protect astronauts and spacecraft during their missions. This 4-D printed "space fabric" remains foldable and retains the ability to change shape to keep machinery warm when exploring cold destinations like Jupiter's icy Europa moon.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is developing the material under the direction of Raul Polit Casillas. The woven metal object consist of small silver squares bound together, but still manufactured in one piece with the help of 3-D printing tech. "We call it 4D printing because we can print both the geometry and the function of these materials," Casillas explains. The core functionalities of NASA’s material are reflectivity, passive heat management, foldability and tensile strength.
The JPL's vision is to be able to manufacture this material both on Earth as well as in space, allowing astronauts to print out materials, recycle them and reuse them. "If 20th century manufacturing was driven by mass production, then this is the mass production of functions," Casillas says.