NASA News Today: A Sensory Skin For Spacecraft And Satellites Developed

First Posted: Mar 27, 2017 03:12 AM EDT

One of the major challenges that astronauts aboard spacecraft and scientists controlling it from the Earth's face is timely and accurate identification of peripheral damage on the surface of spacecraft. Such damages are usually caused by micrometeoroids and miniscule orbital debris that are known to travel at high speed (17,500 mph to 24,000 mph) in outer space.

If such high-speed particles, as small as the size of paint chip can cause substantial damage to the hull (outer layers) of the spacecraft. The persisting systems of damage detection are designed to identify and blow the alarm only when the damage is capable enough to impact the inside environment. However, by the time this happens, it is already late to take remedial measures.

The only way to monitor surface damages is through camera inspection or by an astronaut, who is sent outside the spacecraft for a spacewalk. It has been observed that these minor discrepancies in design are responsible for technical difficulties in the functioning of spacecraft and satellites.

Thankfully, NASA scientists have recently developed an automatic "Flexible Damage Detection System" that can spot minor surface damages in real time. It is also designed to assess the extent of damage and inform the scientists and astronauts immediately so that it can be repaired in time and further damage to the inner layers can be prevented, NDTV reported.

Scientists are referring the new technology as a "sensory skin" for spacecraft and satellite. The "skin" is prepared by the integration of several technologies. NASA scientists prepared low-voltage electric circuits, which were then printed onto Kapton thermal insulation film. The circuits and the film were finally connected to computers via software that could detect minor changes in the circuit and immediately reflect the same on the computer screen.

The largest sensory panel prepared as of yet is about 6 inches X 6 inches. NASA scientists are brainstorming to find an efficient method to integrate these circuits to form a quilt of sensory network, India Today reported.

The scientists are now working to prepare a sensory network that is thin, inflatable, foldable and expandable, so that it can be wrapped around the whole or parts of the spacecraft. Furthermore, it is also proposed that if mankind succeeds in its plans of setting up a Moon Village or creating human outposts in Mars, then the said technology would help in protecting them from structural damage.

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