Self-healing material could plug holes in space ships

Future space ships could use the new material for protection against orbital debris-caused hull breaches(Credit: Shutterstock)

As the movies have shown us, space travel is an intimidating prospect, what with the possibilities of running out of air, the rocket engines conking out, or the shipboard computer deciding to bump off the crew. Another danger is fast-flying orbital debris piercing the hull. Scientists may be on their way to a solution to that one, however, in the form of a new self-healing material.

Developed by a team from the University of Michigan and NASA, the material is made up of thiol-ene-trialkylborane liquid resin, sandwiched between two polymer panels. As long as the resin is contained in the airtight space between the panels, it stays in its liquid form.

When the material is pierced by a projectile, however, the resin leaks out of the hole and polymerizes upon contact with the air in the ship. As a result, it instantly forms a solid airtight plug in the hole.

It is hoped that the technology could ultimately be applied to vulnerable areas inside the hulls of spacecraft or space stations – because the resin and panels are both transparent, it could conceivably also be used on their windows.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal ACS Macro Letters. You can see a sample of the material sealing up a bullet hole, in the video below.

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