Self-healing polymer materials seal in seconds

Researchers have developed a self-healing polymer material for repairing potentially fatal holes in spacecraft.

Objects in space zoom by at more than 35,000 km/h and although shields and manoeuvring can help protect space structures, there is always the possibility that debris can bore into them. Therefore a new material has been developed that can repair itself within a couple of seconds and prevent holes being made in structures that could in turn result in catastrophic events.

With space being not exactly the most friendly environment, the ISS space station is fitted with 'bumpers' that can shatter flying debris before it comes into contact with the outer walls of the structure. If these bumpers ever stopped working for any reason, it would likely result in air escaping from the astronaut's living areas. Therefore a backup plan was clearly essential.

This is why a new type of self-healing material was developed that contains a reactive liquid sandwiched between two layers of solid polymers. The new material consists of a liquid resin - thiol-ene-trialkylborane - that lies completely airtight between two polymer panels. The liquid remains fluid for as long as the seal is unbroken. If a hole is made, the liquid reacts immediately to the oxygen in the air escaping from the astronauts living areas in the space station, forming a permanent seal within seconds.

This technology doubtless has other applications down here on Earth, and one of them for example could be on cars.

See how the material reacts:


Source: ACS