This is What Space Debris Does to the Kevlar Skins of Spacecraft

By Jamie Condliffe on at

Gravity wasn't too far off the mark. You're looking through a hole, made by simulated space debris, in the reinforced Kevlar–Nextel fabric that makes up the outer skin of European Space Agency spacecraft.

The test was carried out by researchers from the Fraunhofer Ernst Mach Institute for High-Speed Dynamics, who fired a 7.5mm-diameter aluminium bullet at 7 km/second towards the sample of material. According to the ESA, that represents the upper end of the type of debris the its craft need to be able to survive.

The Kevlar–Nextel material, developed by Stephanie Kwolek of the DuPont company, is stronger than steel, but still struggles in the face of hyper-velocity aluminium bullets. Still, the good news is that in the ESA's spacecraft this kevlar cladding covers a three-millimetre-thick aluminium wall, which actually survived the impact. Phew. [ESA]