NASA uses giant weapon that shoots spacesuits to test its endurance

Space is a hostile environment for the human body. In addition to the lack of air and exposure to solar radiation and cosmic rays, astronauts also need to be protected from possible impacts from micrometeorites. So engineers at NASA’s Ballistic Impact Laboratory are evaluating what materials are best for a more modern space suit — and they’ve run tests by firing steel spheres and artificial rocks from an air cannon on those materials.

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Research is being conducted from the Research Center Glenn from NASA. There, the engineers use a meter long air cannon capable of firing projectiles at a speed of 914 m/s — about two and a half times the speed of sound. The lab’s technical lead, Mike Pereira, explained that the test is essential for a variety of aeronautical and space exploration missions.

Mike Pereira, laboratory leader, calibrating the air cannon before testing (Image: Reproduction/NASA)

In the first stage of testing, the engineers sought to evaluate what materials would be used for the space suit. To assess tissue potency and required layer thickness, the team used the air gun to fire steel balls into a variety of tissues.

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The cannon was connected to a Vacuum chamber to remove air resistance, simulating space conditions. Meanwhile, an array of high-speed sensors and cameras measured how each material absorbed the impact. The team also evaluated a fabric composed of resistant fibers and bonding resins. To test the energy and tension transfer capacity, artificial moon rocks made of basalt were fired.

Artificial lunar rocks produced with basalt (Image: Reproduction/NASA)

Pereira and his colleagues still need to analyze all the data obtained in the ballistics tests for determine the best materials for a variety of tools for exploring the Moon, and beyond. The next stage of the research will be the analysis of materials that capture space debris, such as aerogels.

Source: Futurism, NASA

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