US Army-funded smart fabric collects dust on ISS

Researchers at the Army’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies at MIT have developed an acoustic fabric so sensitive to vibrations that it can detect impacts from microscopic high-velocity space particles. A more earthly application of these fabrics could be for blast detection and in the future could act as sensitive microphones for directional gunshot detection.

The researchers said the fabric system contains thermally drawn vibration-sensitive fibres that are capable of converting mechanical vibration energy into electric energy. When a micrometeoroid or other space debris hits the fabric, the fabric vibrates and the acoustic fibre generates an electrical signal.

“This is an exquisite example of harnessing nanoscience for technology development that bridges the physical and digital domains,” said James Burgess, ISN programme manager for the Army Research Office, a part of DECOM, Army Research Laboratory. “Delivering revolutionary methodologies that result from foundational science is always one of our main priorities and the opportunity to collect data from space dust using a fibre sensor as a key building block of the system is truly exciting.”

The US Army established the ISN in 2002 as an interdisciplinary research centre devoted to improving the protection, survivability and mission capabilities of the soldier and soldier-supporting platforms and systems. The acoustic fibre was developed through ISN projects aimed at building next-generation fibre and fabrics for soldier uniforms and battle gear that could detect a variety of physiological parameters, such as heart rate and respiration as well as external sounds like gunshots and explosions.