Synthetic Muscle Heading to International Space Station

The journey could open doors to using these manmade muscles in space-bound robots.

Source: NASA

The SpaceX Dragon will be transporting the material to the ISS. Source: NASA

A group of engineers and scientists are sending synthetic muscles to the International Space Station. The journey could open doors to using this unique material in space-bound robots.

The technology was developed by RAS Lab founder Lenore Rasmussen with the help of engineers and scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) . The team has been working on the material`s ability to adhere to metal.

Useful for deep space travel

The researchers say Synthetic Muscle™ could come in handy for robots involved in deep space travel (including for Mars missions), due do its resistance to radiation. The material could potentially offer machines human-like capabilities.

 “Based on the good results we had on planet Earth, the next step is to see how it behaves in a space environment,” said Charles Gentile, a PPPL engineer. “From there the next step might be to use it on a mission to Mars.”

Rasmussen added: “We can’t explore space without robots. Humans can only withstand a certain amount of radiation so that limits the time that people can be in space, whereas robots particularly if they’re radiation-resistant can be up there for long periods of time without being replaced.”

Source: NASA

A picture of the synthetic material that is heading to the ISS. Source: NASA

Testing the material using gamma radiation

The material was tested last summer and exposed to more than 300,000 RADs of gamma radiation. The test on the gel, which can be rubber-like or as soft as jelly, equated to a return trip to Mars. Another 45-hour test was equivalent to a Jupiter trip.

While the radiation changed the material`s color, it did not affect its functionality (electroacivity, durability and strength). The researchers tested selected samples of the material and concluded temperatures as low as -271 degrees Celsius (close to absolute zero) did not affect it either.

Rasmussen has been working on the technology since the late 1990s. Over time, she solved one of the key issues with the gel: getting it to adhere to the metal electrodes. Rasmussen did this by using a plasma to treat the metal (steel or titanium). This changed the surface of the metal and increased the gel`s ability to adhere to it.

Sending the synthetic material to space

The Synthetic Muscle™ will head to the International Space Station via the SpaceX Dragon on Monday, April 13. It will be kept in a zero gravity storage rack on board the station for approximately 90 days. During that time period, astronauts will be tasked with photographing the material. Upon its return, the material will be tested with identical Synthetic Muscle™ that remained on Earth.

In addition to robotics, Rasmussen says her technology could also be used to help amputees. She`s currently exploring the idea of using Synthetic Muscle™ as a prosthetic liner.  

Source: PPPL