A self-healing material comprising two layers of a polymer and a reactive liquid could help protect spacecraft in orbit against damage from space debris and meteorites.
The novel material, developed by a team led by University of Michigan researcher Timothy Scott, heals itself immediately when punctured if the liquid inside comes in contact with oxygen. This behaviour could prove extremely beneficial in space, where astronauts are threatened by collisions with a multitude of objects.
In a video published by the American Chemical Society, a bullet can be seen piercing a thin sheet of polymer, only for the hole to seal itself immediately afterwards.
The material could provide an extra layer of protection against impacts for the International Space Station, which frequently has to be manoeuvred to avoid dangerous objects hurtling uncontrolled in its direction at speeds of 22,000 miles per hour.
The station, the most heavily shielded spacecraft ever flown, is fitted with bumpers that vaporise the debris before it hits the structure itself. In the event of failure of this system, astronauts would be at risk as oxygen would quickly leak from any possible hole in the station’s shell.
The material, developed with the support of Nasa, would seal the hole as soon as it came in to contact with the air from inside. The technology could also prove highly beneficial in multiple applications on Earth, e.g. in the automobile industry.
Watch the self-healing material in action in the video below: