WATCH THIS: NASA’s self-healing material absorbs space junk
NASA has developed a self-healing material that could provide the best solution yet to the growing danger for spacecraft – collisions with space junk hurtling along at thousands of miles per hour. Designed to heal itself in less than two seconds, NASA has taken inspiration from the (almost) indestructible Terminator T1000 – this high-tech substance could help shield astronauts from the 500,000 fragments of debris that currently orbit the Earth.
How does it work?
Developed by scientists in NASA’s Langley Research Center, the new material consists of two organic polymer sheets separated by a specially engineered gel. On contact with air and heat, the gel solidifies in less than two seconds, forming a barrier against the elements – and absorbing vast amounts of energy.
In 2009, NASA calculated there were more than 500,000 pieces of space junk floating around the Earth – and with each mission that number only gets bigger. Travelling at speeds of up to 17,500mph, each fragment could have catastrophic effects for satellites and astronaut-carrying spacecraft.
Scientists also fear that a chain reaction of debris collisions dubbed the Kessler syndrome could make the Earth’s orbit unsafe for humans, an idea explored in the film Gravity.
Heal the world
NASA is investigating several different ways of fighting the growing problems of junk whizzing around the Earth’s orbit, including debris-zapping lasers and Whipple shields, but this new material could be the most viable yet.
Excitingly enough, NASA has stated that the material could later have other applications closer to home, and eventually be used on everything from cars to planes.