Numerous fragments located in the Earth’s orbit represent a serious danger for the ISS and astronauts. To protect them from collisions with such debris, new materials are being developed from which it will be possible to manufacture protection for the future orbital station. Among them – FML (fiber metal laminate), which is a few thin metal layers bonded with a composite material.
Currently objects with a diameter of 5 cm to 1 meter are regularly tracked by NASA and ESA, but smaller fragments remain unnoticed. The collision of such fragments with a spacecraft can lead to the Kessler effect and the inadequacy of near space for practical use.
In order to find out how the new material will be able to withstand such fragments, experts from the European Space Agency conducted an experiment. They fired an aluminum shell with a diameter of 2.8 mm from a special gas gun installed at the German Fraunhofer Institute, and recorded what was happening on a high-speed camera. The bullet had a speed of 7 km / s. Scientists have tested several varieties of FML, manufactured by GTM Structures.
As you can see in the video, an aluminum bullet broke through the protection, but turned into tiny fragments that could catch the second layer of protection of the spacecraft.
The next step, according to scientists, will be testing of new material in orbit, in particular, on small satellites CubeSat.