By Kyle James  |  02-28-2018   Science
Photo credit: Science News | YouTube

It is an exciting time to be a fan of space travel, private spaceflight is becoming a reality and some engineers are working on protecting future spacecraft by shooting at their products.

The work requires a high-speed video camera to see 2.8-millimeter aluminum bullets plow through a test material designed for a space "wind" shield at 7 kilometers a second. The engineers work is meant to find structures that could stand up to the impact of debris in space.

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Earth is encased in a cloud of debris, both natural and unnatural ranging from micrometeorites and comet dust to cast-away space junk from past launches. These floating debris can damage spacecraft if they collide at high speeds and anything smaller than a centimeter is very difficult to track and avoid, according to ESA materials engineer Benoit Bonvoisin.

In order to protect future spacecraft from taking damage from a hit, Bonvoisin and colleagues are working on creating armor made from fiber metal laminates, or several thin metal layers bonded together. The tiny layers are separated by 10 to 30 centimeters in a specially designed configuration called a Whipple shield.

The video shows an experiment at the Fraunhofer Institute for High-Speed Dynamics in Germany, the first layer shatters the aluminum bullet into a cloud of small particles. The configuration itself is nothing new, in fact, the Whipple shield has been used for decades, but the materials used in this one are new and what makes it so special.

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