Image: ATV shielding after impact test

Jun 25, 2014
Credit: ESA-Stijn Laagland

An exit hole through Kevlar–Nextel fabric after hypervelocity testing of the multilayer shielding for ESA's ATV space freighter, simulating an impact by space debris. The good news is that testing confirms the spacecraft's pressure shell would survive such a collision intact.

Testing was carried out for ESA's Space Environment and Effects section at the Fraunhofer Ernst Mach Institut for High-Speed Dynamics in Brühl, Germamy, using a high-performance light-gas gun.

A 7.5 mm-diameter aluminium bullet was shot at 7 km/s towards the same 'stuffed Whipple shield' design used to protect the ATV and the other International Space Station manned modules.

This represents the upper end of the size of the shield is designed to cope with. Multiple layers give greater protection than a single thick aluminium layer.

The debris begins by piercing a blanket of multilayer insulation, followed by a 1 mm-thick aluminium 'bumper shield'.

This impact makes the solid object break apart into a cloud of fragment and vapour, which becomes easier for the following layers to capture or deflect. Next comes the layer of stuffing seen in this main photo, a weave of lightweight Kevlar and Nextel , which further slows the incoming debris.

The stuffing fabric and a surrounding sheet has been thoroughly shredded by the impact, but the overall mass and energy of the debris has been sufficiently dissipated that it has merely harmlessly scorched the innermost 3-mm-thick aluminium wall.

In orbit, this entire shield measures just 128 mm across.

The stronger-than-steel Kevlar fabric was invented by Stephanie Kwolek of the DuPont company, who died this month.

On Earth, her invention's 'killer app' proved to be bulletproof vests; its use on the Space Station helps to ensure that module hulls could be designed several centimetres thinner than would otherwise be the case.

ESA's next and final ATV, Georges Lemaître, will be launched to the orbital outpost this summer.

Explore further: ATV-5 set to test new rendezvous sensors

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

ATV-5 set to test new rendezvous sensors

Mar 19, 2014

ESA's space freighter ATV Georges Lemaître, set for launch this summer,will test new rendezvous sensors in space as it approaches the International Space Station.

ESA workhorse to power NASA's Orion spacecraft

Jan 17, 2013

(Phys.org)—The ATV-derived service module, sitting directly below Orion's crew capsule, will provide propulsion, power, thermal control, as well as supplying water and gas to the astronauts in the habitable ...

Image: ESA's telerobotic robot hand

May 01, 2014

(Phys.org) —As engineer Manuel Aiple moves his gauntleted hand, the robotic hand a few metres away in ESA's telerobotics laboratory follows in sync.

Recommended for you

SDO captures images of two mid-level flares

Dec 19, 2014

The sun emitted a mid-level flare on Dec. 18, 2014, at 4:58 p.m. EST. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured an image of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts ...

Why is Venus so horrible?

Dec 19, 2014

Venus sucks. Seriously, it's the worst. The global temperature is as hot as an oven, the atmospheric pressure is 90 times Earth, and it rains sulfuric acid. Every part of the surface of Venus would kill you ...

Image: Christmas wrapping the Sentinel-3A antenna

Dec 19, 2014

The moment a team of technicians, gowned like hospital surgeons, wraps the Sentinel-3A radar altimeter in multilayer insulation to protect it from the temperature extremes found in Earth orbit.

Video: Flying over Becquerel

Dec 19, 2014

This latest release from the camera on ESA's Mars Express is a simulated flight over the Becquerel crater, showing large-scale deposits of sedimentary material.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.