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NASA is an innovation hothouse, but we don’t expect fabric to be high on their list of must-dos. Then again, a few moments of thought and you realize that protective comfortable fabric that can withstand the rigors of space, yet be comfortable and flexible would be one of the most important innovations they would be working on.

We call it 4D printing because we can print both the geometry and the function of these materials.

True to their reputation, NASA is on it, with a new fabric that is almost miraculous. Its so-called ‘space fabric’ is currently making an impression on the world of technology. Engineers from NASA developed a prototype space fabric that could help astronauts in their missions.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent U.S. agency that is responsible for various space programs. NASA is the U.S. center for aerospace research and aeronautics.

Over the years, NASA has produced many worthwhile inventions that are innovative and helpful. A group of engineers headed by Raul Pilot Casillas, a System Engineer from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory(JPL) of NASA, created an advanced space fabric. The space fabric is made using 3D printings. The 3D-printed material is foldable, enabling it to shapeshift.

3D printing is an additive manufacturing process that develops an object from a digital design. The object is made by means of laying down successive layers of material until it is finished. NASAs breakthrough new process is being called 4D printing.

Casillas said, “we call it 4D printing because we can print both the geometry and the function of these materials”. He added that “if 20th Century manufacturing was driven by mass production, then this is the mass production of functions”.

The space fabric is made out of interconnected stainless steel squares. It was based on the image and likeness of chain mail. The sides of the fabric reflect and absorb light, providing a passive mechanism for thermal regulation.

How Will Space Fabric Become Beneficial in the Future?

A picture of a shirt in a 3D printing and close-up of the fabric

NASA provided possible usage for the space fabric in the future. The fabric could be used for:

  • Big antennas and other deployable devices.
  • Protecting space craft from meteorites.
  • Improving astronauts’ spacesuits.
  • Getting objects on the surface of another planet.
  • Insulating the spacecraft.

Casillas grew up around fabrics because his mother is a fashion designer from Spain. With his background, Casillas also mentioned that the chain mail-like fabric could also be used for fashion.

Other Breakthroughs of 3D Printing

Aside from the NASA’s space fabric, 3D –printers can also develop other inventions. Network World has provided 10 coolest things that were made on 3D printers:

  • The Prince Urn – The 3D-printed ceramic urn for the late Prince was designed by Foreverence. It is a scale model of Prince’s residence in Chanhassen, Minnesota.
  • Guitars – Odd Guitars is a company that uses 3D printing in order to customize the guitars as requested. The company uses the 3D printing technology called Selective Laser Sintering to create the guitar body.
  • Robotic lawnmower – The 3D-printed robotic lawnmower of Reprap Windturbine drives within a boundary wire fence. The robotic lawnmower called Ardumower is driven by two 12V geared motors.
  • Bionic Arm – Exii has developed a bionic arm called HACKberry. It is a 3D-printable electric prosthetic arm.
  • Ears and human tissue – Regenerative medicine scientists at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine have made a 3D bioprinter. The invention can make replacement tissue strong enough to endure transplantation.
  • Eagle beak – An eagle named Beauty had been shot in the face by a poacher in Alaska. With the help of a 3D printer, Beauty was able to have her beak back.
  • Titanium bike frame – Chris Williams, the Managing Director at Empire Cycles, has designed the first metal 3D-printed bicycle frame. MX6-EVO was made using Renishaw’s additive manufacturing technology.
  • Drones – BonaDrone has modified a drone using a 3D printer. It developed the Mosquito drone.
  • Candy – Chef Jet is a food printer from 3D Systems which makes ‘custom edible geometries’ from milk chocolate or sugar.
  • Self-driving car – DigiRobotics is a company based in UAE. It developed WiGo, a 3D printed autonomous car. WiGo’s body was 3D-printed in Dubai using a six-axis, which is a large-scale 3D printer.

NASA’s space fabric can revolutionize the way that spacecraft are engineered. It has taken a different path in order to contribute to aerospace technologies. The space agency beleives the fabric has huge potential for the future.