One of the biggest threats to the International Space Station (ISS) is the impact of micrometeorites. Even a small hole can lead to a dangerous situation for astronauts. There is currently no active monitoring program for such clashes, although they are very likely. An interdisciplinary team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) wants to solve this problem with a collision sensor made from fabric.
The ISS’s outer panels have been coated with a material called beta cloth, which gives the station its characteristic white color. The Teflon fiberglass coating is designed to protect the space station from minor impacts. However, it does not actively monitor whether and where a collision occurred, making it difficult to determine if a tissue fragment needs to be repaired or replaced.
The new material uses “thermally stretched acoustic fibers” that are highly sensitive to mechanical vibrations. The fabric also converts these vibrations into electrical energy using the piezoelectric effect. Connecting wires to individual sections of the material will create a lattice-like structure, and engineers can calculate the number and size of the fabric’s impacts.
Samples of these susceptible tissues were sent to the ISS in early November. The samples themselves are still without power, but a 10 x 10 cm tissue has already been attached to the outside of the station. The group plans to subject her to severe space tests for a year, after which she will be returned to Earth.