When I was very young, my dad drove me just outside of town away from the city lights, stopped on a gravel road and when we got out of the car, told me to look up at the night sky. It was clear, and there were lots of stars, but one of them was moving—very fast. “There it is,” he said. “That’s Sputnik!” Young as I was, I remember it distinctly, and I was as amazed as everyone else at the time to see the first satellite ever launched.
Watching satellites blink across the heavens is so routine now that we barely take notice, and many newer satellites are so small that we aren’t likely to see them anyway. But they’re up there—lots of them. And they’re dependent on sophisticated textiles to survive beyond Earth’s atmosphere.
Our feature this issue, “Keeping cool in space,” discusses some of the materials used in aerospace and aeronautics applications, but I think one of the interesting points it makes has to do with the nature of the industry today, which is vastly different from the Russian/American “space race” of the 20th century. Private companies are now major players with the potential to take the industry in new directions.
In fact, we’ve covered some interesting developments on this site, including the first solar-powered airplane, which continues to set new records; Fabdesigns Inc.’s flat-knitted, armored compression spacesuit; NASA’s “SMAP” satellite that has the largest rotating mesh antenna ever deployed in space; a space suit by ILC Dover worn by Alan Eustace to set an incredible skydiving record; a zero2Infinity launch of nanosatellites from the stratosphere, and many others.
All of these projects are dependent upon textile manufactures and fabricators for coming up with the materials, and the means to assemble materials, that can perform under the extreme environment of space. Given the growth in private enterprise in this sector, it seems likely that opportunities for textile producers interested in producing extremely high performance and highly specialized products will continue well into the future—and stargazing could get more interesting, too.
Janet Preus is senior editor of Advanced Textiles Source.