. 24/7 Space News .
Keeping astronauts safe in inflatable habitats
by Staff Writers
Daytona Beach FL (SPX) Mar 06, 2018

File image.

At first, inflatable habitats in orbit around Earth may sound like a dangerous idea, given that the vacuum of space is littered with, as NASA says, "millions of pieces of human-made debris or space junk consisting mainly of fragmented rocket bodies and spacecraft parts created by 50 years of exploration."

Most space debris is tiny - almost microscopic - but there are also millions of naturally occurring objects in orbit called micrometeoroids. NASA often must move the International Space Station (ISS) away from larger pieces of space debris - the half-million objects in Earth's orbit that are larger than a marble.

Imagine the consequences of a micrometeoroid or a piece of space junk half that size, moving at 22,000 miles per hour as it strikes an inflatable space habitat.

The Risks of MMOD
Micrometeoroids and orbital debris (MMOD) may seem innocuous because of their small size, but at speeds averaging 10 kilometers per second, they can become killers. In fact, they are the top hazard facing spacecraft, satellites and astronauts, NASA says.

As NASA describes it: "A 1-centimeter paint fleck is capable of inflicting the same damage as a 550 pound object traveling 60 miles per hour on Earth. A 10-centimeter projectile would be comparable to 7 kilograms of TNT." Despite such hazards, NASA has been designing inflatable space habitats since the 1960s.

Today, there are at least three inflatable structures orbiting Earth. One was launched in 2006. Another has been docked to the International Space Station (ISS) since April 2016. It's hoped that soft-sided, expandable, interconnected modules may provide a cost-efficient, safe way to keep people in orbit around the Earth, in a colony on the moon and on an inter-solar spacecraft carrying explorers to Mars.

Monitoring Heath, Detecting Impacts
A team of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University faculty and graduate student researchers, led by Aerospace Engineering Professors Daewon Kim and Sirish Namilae, are helping NASA answer questions about the feasibility of humans living in these balloon-like structures beyond the Earth's grasp.

Kim's research has focused on developing and refining smart material sensors that are used to detect stress or damage in critical structures, such as automobile motors or the wings of aircraft. Namilae, working in the fields of solid mechanics and materials science, has worked for years with an exceptional material called carbon nanotubes.

These microscopic hollow tube-like structures of graphene (think pencil lead) have countless uses, everything from lightweight body armor to growing biological tissue to making the next generation of TV screens.

Now, Kim and Namilae are creating a new generation of sensors using a type of carbon nanotubes called buckypaper that is sensitive enough to detect the impact of even the smallest MMOD.

Carbon nanotubes, which are the main component of buckypaper, are 50,000 times thinner than a human hair and 500 times stronger than steel. With buckypaper, layers of nanotubes are loosely bonded to form a paper like thin sheet. "Buckypaper" owes its name to Buckminsterfullerene, a molecule composed of 60 carbon atoms shaped like the geodesic domes championed by architect and futurist Buckminster Fuller.

What if, Kim and Namilae wondered, thousands of these tiny sensors could be used to coat a large flexible membrane on, say, an inflatable habitat in space? They might more accurately monitor strain to the structure and pinpoint impacts from nearly invisible micrometeoroids.

The Embry-Riddle team is now building highly sensitive strain sensors which offer unique electromechanical, or "piezoresistive" properties when subjected to mechanical deformations.

"It was Sirish's idea to use buckypaper," Kim says. "And when we experimented with adding micrometer-sized graphite platelets to our original carbon nanotube/epoxy mix, it boosted the sensitivity of the sensors."

Kim and Namilae - with colleagues at LUNA Innovations Inc., a leading fiber optics sensing company - were awarded a $125,000 Phase I grant in 2016 to begin work on two different sensor prototypes to enable structural "health monitoring" as well as impact detection for inflatable space habitats.

Keeping Space Habitats Inflated
The expandable structure currently docked at the ISS, built by Bigelow Aerospace, is made of several sheets of flexible Kevlar-like materials with closed-cell vinyl polymer foam between the layers. In a configuration like this, the structural shell is expected to provide excellent MMOD impact and radiation protection, superior to existing metal structures in space.

LUNA began modifying their patented high-definition fiber optic strain sensors to be embedded into one of the multiple interior walls of a space module.

The Embry-Riddle researchers began work on their carbon nanotube sensors to cover multiple outer layers. NASA requested sensors that could detect and pinpoint the impact of MMOD up to 3 mm in diameter traveling up to 6 miles per second. Graduate students Jiukun Li and Sandeep Chava helped design, build and test the impact sensors. Two other grad students, Muhammad Anees and Audrey Gbaguidi, worked on space applications of the sensors.

In static tests, the team successfully demonstrated dynamic impact detection with the sensors. LUNA and the Embry-Riddle research team have now begun Phase II testing, having received an additional $750,000. Their goal this time is to increase the capabilities of the sensing technologies.

"Our biggest current challenge is embedding these smart sensors into a flexible and compliant material that can expand as the modules are inflated in space," Kim says.

Namilae is also developing a computational modeling algorithm to gather data from the sensors when a MMOD impact occurs, including its severity and the exact location on the sensing layer.

Soon, a crucial test will happen at the University of Dayton Research Institute's Hypervelocity Impact Facility: 3 mm projectiles will be fired at hypersonic speeds (3 to 5 miles per second) at the sensor array, which will be embedded in multiple impact-resistant layers separated by vinyl polymer foam - materials similar to what's being used for the ISS module.

"We also have to show that our sensor materials are space-worthy and figure out how much power the sensor array will use," Namilae says.

The ultimate goal is a possible Phase III grant to commercialize the sensor technology with NASA and NASA affiliates, but the research also offers more down-to-Earth benefits.

"We hope that our work will lead to applications of our sensors in space, but the thing I value most in this process is our students having an opportunity to learn and grow as scientists and create new knowledge," says Namilae.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the spring 2018 edition of ResearchER magazine (Vol. 2, No. 1). The ResearchER archives can be found on Scholarly Commons.

Related Links
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Space Tourism, Space Transport and Space Exploration News

Thanks for being there;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5+ Billed Monthly

paypal only
SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once

credit card or paypal

NASA Team outfits Orion for abort test with lean approach
Houston TX (SPX) Mar 06, 2018
With the arrival of the Orion crew module to be used in the Ascent Abort-2 test at Johnson Space Center in Houston, the team is already at work with a lean, iterative development approach to minimize cost and ensure the flight test stays on schedule. The approach involves considering how to do things differently, finding ways to execute elements of the buildup more efficiently and pushing on the norms of doing business to see if there are areas where productivity can be enhanced. Engineers a ... read more

Comment using your Disqus, Facebook, Google or Twitter login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

NASA, partners seek input on standards for deep space technologies

NASA Team outfits Orion for abort test with lean approach

Knowledge matters for Year of Education on Station

Jemison: 'If you want a seat at the table, you can have one'

SpaceX carries out 50th launch of Falcon 9 rocket

GOES-S marks 100th launch of Rocketdyne AJ-60A solid rocket booster

Action plan approved for next Ariane 5 launches

Russia's Energomash tests RD-180 engine made for US Atlas rocket

Dyes for 'live' extremophile labeling will help discover life on Mars

Mars Express views moons set against Saturn's rings

Curiosity tests a new way to drill on Mars

NASA InSight mission to Mars arrives at launch site

Satellite will test plan for global China led satcom network

China plans rocket sea-launch

China speeds up research, commercialization of space shuttles

Long March rockets on ambitious mission in 2018

ESA incubators ranked among world's best

Iridium Certus readies for takeoff with aviation service providers

Lockheed Martin Completes Foundation for Satellite Factory of the Future

Lockheed Martin Completes Assembly on Arabsat's Newest Communications Satellite

Common bricks can be used to detect past presence of uranium, plutonium

Majorana runners go long range: New topological phases of matter unveiled

Latest updates from NASA on IMAGE Recovery

Radioactive cylinder found on Lebanon coast: authority

Chemical sleuthing unravels possible path to forming life's building blocks in space

Do you know where your xenon is?

Tesla in space could carry bacteria from Earth

Hubble observes exoplanet atmosphere in more detail than ever before

You are entering the Jovian Twilight Zone

The PI's Perspective: Why Didn't Voyager Explore the Kuiper Belt?

Chasing a stellar flash with assistance from GAIA

New Horizons captures record-breaking images in the Kuiper Belt

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2024 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Statement Our advertisers use various cookies and the like to deliver the best ad banner available at one time. All network advertising suppliers have GDPR policies (Legitimate Interest) that conform with EU regulations for data collection. By using our websites you consent to cookie based advertising. If you do not agree with this then you must stop using the websites from May 25, 2018. Privacy Statement. Additional information can be found here at About Us.