Space Shield Model Can Help With Ballistic Fabric Testing

The research and advancement of body armor protection seems to always keep improving. NASA and NIJ don’t commonly work hand in hand on significant issues, but today marks a new day in body armor technology.

It seems that some of the same technology that goes into protecting astronauts may soon be helpful in body armor. A spacecraft is designed from materials that are protective against space debris. Kevlar is a main ingredient in this spacecraft makeup, and it’s also the primary element in most body armor. Through use of models that are called ballistic limit curves, developed using a mixture of supercomputer modeling actual experimentation.

The hybrid system uses experiments to work out the fabric's strength, flexibility and thermal attributes. Supercomputers produce simulations to deal with the physics of impact and yarn fracture as well as providing data on complex interactions such as what happens to the fragments of a projectile after the initial hit.

"Using a hybrid technique for fabric modeling works well," said Fahrenthold. "When the fabric barrier is hit at very high velocities, as in spacecraft shielding, it's a shock-type impact and the thermal properties are important as well as the mechanical ones."

The modeling and research is ongoing and Fahrenthold notes that improving the algorithms used to create the curves will have benefits across a range of areas of engineering: "This can provide improved tools for engineering design, and allow simulation-based research to contribute in areas where experiments are very difficult to do or very expensive."

Thermal control in a spacecraft must be engineered to withstand transit through Earth's atmosphere and the space environment. They must operate in a vacuum with temperatures potentially ranging across hundreds of degrees Celsius. Material requirements are that it’s low density. Materials such as beryllium and reinforced carbon composites are used. Heat control can be a big factor in body armor.

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