Posted on May 2nd, 2017

Out of This World – Fabric for Space

The word ‘fabric’ brings many different images to mind, from clothes to car seat covers. Space fabric, however, is an entirely different animal that can be just as versatile. Taking into account the unique conditions in space, covering surfaces there requires a different perspective. To this end, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory created a prototype fabric that resembles the pixels on your television screen. Small, square boxes that are linked together make the material easily malleable to most surfaces and terrains.

This malleable space fabric was created by 3-D printers and could be an innovative technology for future space missions. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The fabric is also insulating as the squares on the front are reflective while the backing absorbs energy. Covering satellites, probes and space crafts with the fabric could protect them from harsh environments and control the temperature inside the craft. Double bonus, the space fabric is created by a 3-D printer. It’s not just really nifty sounding, it makes manufacturing easier and cheaper. Lowering the cost of production is a huge plus for engineers. Space exploration is an expensive endeavor and keeping costs down opens up new avenues for innovation.

Hypothetically, the fabric could be made in space using a 3-D printer on board a spacecraft. As we delve deeper into the inhospitable environment of space, astronauts will have limited resources and will rely upon what’s readily available to them. 3-D printed material will save space on the craft and allow astronauts to create the tools they need, when they need them.

Almost Real-Time Night Imagery

Images of the Earth at night are spellbinding as well as abundantly useful for scientific research. Up until this point, global nighttime imagery has been released about every 10 years. The International Space Station (ISS) also provides night imagery, however this imagery is more for looks. Miguel Román and his research team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center are working on providing night imagery in near real-time from the NASA-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite. The development of new algorithms will automate the process of getting these images into NASA’s search, browse and download tools.

This nighttime image of Europe is a composite from the NPP satellite. (Credit: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

The algorithms need to take into account a multitude of ever-changing factors, including: moonlight, atmospheric emissions, clouds, seasonal vegetation, aerosols as well as snow and ice coverage. Once this process is complete, it will be much easier and faster to provide this imagery to the public. Increased fidelity in night imagery may allow users to looks at very dim light, like lamp posts or even boats, making it easier to track illegal fishing vessels. The use cases are diverse and access to this imagery will help stimulate even more interest in different ways night imagery can be used for research.

Katie Nelson
Geospatial Ninja
(303) 718-7163
katie@apollomapping.com

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