An astronaut at Techtextil

Challenger astronaut, Prof Ernst Messerschmid, spoke about the importance of technical textiles for the aerospace sector at Techtextil today. A GENUINE astronaut – that was an opportunity we naturally didn’t want to miss so we spoke to the man who has been in space.

Prof Messerschmid, why are technical textiles so interesting for the aerospace sector?

The aerospace sector is distinguished not only by great innovativeness but also a great need for innovativeness. In particular, research and development is constantly being carried out for space shuttles, space suits and satellites – primarily, of course, to ensure the safety of the astronauts. And there has been a clear shift away from classic materials to technical textiles, such as composites made of carbon fibres. The fact that technical textiles can simultaneously combine a variety of qualities, for example, electrical, acoustic and mechanical, make them highly efficient materials for the aerospace industry.

Could you mention a few areas of application?

They are innumerable. In particular, the astronauts’ space suits benefit enormously from the possibilities opened up by technical textiles. Don’t laugh but a constant process of research and development is carried out into underwear for space flights. There, the smallest channels must transport water reliably to ensure the necessary thermal balance when the sun shines on astronauts working outside the space station. The space shuttle must also be able to withstand very high temperatures, especially on re-entering the earth’s atmosphere when they can rise as high as 2,000 °C. The composites made of carbon fibres I mentioned before can withstand such temperatures for up to half an hour – a very long time. Additionally, we can save weight by using technical textiles. And, of course, less weight means less energy is consumed.

Do you think that the demand for technical textiles will continue to grow?

That is almost inevitable. Consider the aviation sector. If I am not mistaken, about 30 percent of the A350 is made of technical textiles – twice as much as previous models. Incidentally, I am very much in favour of using the research and development procedure from the aerospace industry in the technical-textiles field, to open up more areas of application. There are certainly parallels between the two sectors when it comes to innovativeness.

Prof Messerschmid, thank you for talking to us.

By the way, Prof Messerschmid came to the fair using a very down-to-earth means of transport – by car.

Background picture: Prof Ernst Messerschmid was a member of crew of the US Space Shuttle Challenger for a Spacelab mission co-financed by Germany in 1985.

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