From the first flying pterosaurs, who 160 million years ago evolved hollow, low-density skeletons, to the Wright brothers, with their canvas and balsa wood aircraft, to the latest engineering marvels from NASA®, SpaceX®, Blue Origin®, and others, advancements in flight have always hinged on the struggle of performance versus weight. It is no wonder, therefore, that textiles have always, and will likely continue, to play a pivotal role in aerospace design. And, as the well-accepted leader in terms of performance textile components, Specialty Narrow Fabrics – such as webbings, elastics, narrow-E-textiles, trims, tubes, and cords – will remain a staple resource for aerospace engineers.
Today, specialty narrow fabrics are an essential component for a wide variety of aerospace, space travel/exploration, and modern aircraft design applications, including structural reinforcement, thermal insulation, cargo containment, fight gear, expandable space habitats, and electrical conductivity, to name a few. These are typically made from high-performance materials such as Vectran®, Spectra®/Dyneema® (UHMWPE), Kevlar®, and Nomex®, which are chosen for their strength, durability, and resistance to extreme temperatures and other environmental factors.
Important Performance Features of Aerospace Textiles
- Long-term fatigue and stress resistance
- Resistance to chemical and organic solvents
- Heat insulation and heat resistance
- Fire retardancy
- High specific modulus and tensile strength
- Good dimensional stability and comfortability
- UV and other harmful radiation resistance
- Light weight and flexibility
- Abrasion and tear resistance
- Cut resistance
Important Aerospace Textile Applications
- Cargo netting and tie-downs
- Seat covers & seat belts
- Aircraft upholstery
- Fiber-reinforced composites
- Space Suits
- Parachutes and controlled descent devices
- Expandable/inflatable habitats
- Fall-protection lifelines and lanyards
- Various thermal insulating components
Particularly in the area of protective clothing and gear – for both the civilian/military pilot and astronaut – aerospace specialty textiles are indispensable.
In practical terms, the spacesuit is not just a set of garments, it is also called a “One Person Spacecraft”. It is a garment worn to keep a human alive in the harsh environment of outer space, including vacuum and temperature extremes. Space suits are often worn inside spacecraft as a safety precaution, in case of loss of cabin pressure, and are necessary for extravehicular activity (EVA), work done outside the spacecraft. Space suits have been worn for such work in Earth orbit, on the surface of the Moon, and enroute back to Earth from space. Modern space suits augment the basic pressure garment with a complex system of equipment and environmental systems designed to keep the wearer comfortable, and to minimize the effort required to bend the limbs, resisting a soft pressure garment’s natural tendency to stiffen against the vacuum. A self-contained oxygen supply and environmental control system is frequently employed to allow complete freedom of movement, independent of the spacecraft. In any modern space suit, there are myriad textile components, constructed from various materials, needed to accomplish all these stringent performance goals.
Three types of space suits exist for different purposes: IVA (intravehicular activity), EVA (extravehicular activity), and IEVA (intra/extravehicular activity). IVA suits are meant to be worn inside a pressurized spacecraft and are therefore lighter and more comfortable. IEVA suits are meant for use inside and outside the spacecraft. They include more protection from the harsh conditions of space, such as protection from micrometeoroids and extreme temperature change. EVA suits, are used outside spacecraft, for either planetary exploration or spacewalks. They must protect the wearer against all conditions of space, as well as provide mobility and functionality.
Some of these requirements also apply to pressure suits worn for other specialized tasks, such as high-altitude reconnaissance flight. At altitudes above the Armstrong limit, around 19,000 m (62,000 ft), water boils at body temperature and pressurized suits are needed.
The G-suit is a special type of flight suit, it is worn by aviators, astronauts, and/or fighter pilots in aircraft that are subjected to high gravitational acceleration force. It is designed to prevent a black-out and g-LOC (g-induced loss of consciousness) caused by the blood pooling in the lower part of the body when under acceleration, thus depriving the brain of blood. Black-out and g-LOC have caused a number of fatal aircraft accidents.
A G-suit generally takes the form of tightly fitting trousers, which fit either under or over (depending on the design) the flight suit worn by the aviator or astronaut. The trousers are fitted with inflatable bladders which, when pressurized through a g-sensitive valve in the aircraft or spacecraft, press firmly on the abdomen and legs, thus restricting the draining of blood away from the brain during periods of high acceleration. In addition, in some modern very high-g aircraft, the Anti-g suit effect is augmented by a small amount of pressure applied to the lungs (positive pressure breathing), which also enhances resistance to high G forces.
Specialty Fibers for Aerospace Textiles
In order to meet the demanding performance and quality standards of the aerospace industry, very specialized materials are typically used. These often include:
Meta Aramids (Nomex®): A relatively soft, flexible, fire-resistant fiber commonly used in the manufacture of space suits, gloves, and other protective clothing.
Vectran®: A high-strength, cut, chemical, and heat-resistant fiber used in the construction of parachutes, inflatable habitats, and other aerospace components.
PBI: A fire-resistant fiber that provides excellent thermal protection and is commonly used in the manufacture of space suits and other protective clothing.
Para Aramids (Kevlar®): A strong, durable, heat & flame-resistant fiber that is used in the construction of webbing, lifelines, ropes, tethers, and other aerospace components.
PTFE: A heat-resistant and low-friction fiber used in the manufacture of space suits, ropes, and other aerospace components.
Ultra-High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (Spectra®, Dyneema®): an extremely strong fiber with excellent cut /abrasion resistance and hydrophobicity.
Carbon Fiber: A lightweight, high-strength fiber used in the construction of spacecraft, satellites, and other aerospace components.
Graphene: Consists of a single atom thick sheet and an allocation of carbons. Some recent applications include graphene coating as multifunctional material for spacecraft and aircraft structures, electrically conductive epoxy resins, and aviation electronics.
Ensuring the Quality and Performance of Aerospace Products
As one might anticipate, the standards governing the design, manufacturing, and quality assurance of all aerospace products are strict and detailed, in the extreme.
AS9100 is a widely adopted and standardized quality management system for the aerospace industry. It was released in October, 1999, by the Society of Automotive Engineers and the European Association of Aerospace Industries.
AS9100 replaces the earlier AS9000 and fully incorporates the entirety of the current version of ISO 9001, while adding requirements relating to quality and safety. Major aerospace manufacturers and suppliers worldwide require compliance and/or registration to AS9100 as a condition of doing business with them. The most recent revision – AS9100D – was updated in 2016.
OTEX Specialty Narrow Fabrics® is a longstanding leader in the design and manufacture of specialty textile components for both space travel and the civilian/military aerospace industries. As an AS9100D certified manufacturer, there is nothing that thrills us more than collaborating with the aerospace engineers from both the private and government sectors, in order to create new and exciting equipment that will help astronauts, pilots, and servicemen and women enhance performance and reach new heights.
If you would like to learn more about the interesting and innovative products that we continue to develop for this, and other, mission-critical industries, please explore our website, or contact us directly. Our research and development team and/or sales staff, would love to hear from you and explore your own unique Specialty Narrow Fabric needs.