Self-Healing Materials For Spacecraft

Real-life present-day engineers finally take a page from the science fiction greats of the Fifties - self-healing windows!


(Self-healing materials video)

The researchers made a new kind of self-healing material by sandwiching a reactive liquid in between two layers of a solid polymer. When they shot a bullet through it, the liquid quickly reacted with oxygen from the air to form a solid plug in under a second. The researchers say the technology could also apply to other more earthly structures including automobiles.

"Autonomously healing materials that utilize thiol–ene polymerization initiated by an environmentally borne reaction stimulus are demonstrated by puncturing trilayered panels, fabricated by sandwiching thiol–ene–trialkylborane resin formulations between solid polymer panels, with high velocity projectiles; as the reactive liquid layer flows into the entrance hole, contact with atmospheric oxygen initiates polymerization, converting the liquid into a solid plug. Using infrared spectroscopy, we find that formulated resins polymerize rapidly, forming a solid polymer within seconds of atmospheric contact."

Fans of Science Fiction Grandmaster Robert Heinlein of course remember tag-along balloons from his excellent 1948 short story Gentlemen, Be Seated; a clever way to find leaks as well as plug them.

However, it turns out that Golden Age great Raymond Z. Gallun predicted this very idea in his 1951 short story Asteroid of Fear:

But the wide roof was all the way up, now—intact. It made a great, squarish bubble, the skin of which [a 'transparent, wire-strengthened plastic '] was specially treated to stop the hard and dangerous part of the ultra-violet rays of the sun, and also the lethal portion of the cosmic rays. It even had an inter-skin layer of gum that could seal the punctures that grain-of-sand-sized meteors might make.
(Read more about Gallun's self-sealing plastic sheets)

(Psst, NASA engineers: this material is perfect for asteroid greenhouses!)

Via Physorg; thanks to Winchell Chung at Project Rho for the tip.

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