The hinge of a door allows it to open and close but doesn’t bend. This simple concept of mechanical motion is vital for making all kinds of movable structures, including mirrors and antennas on spacecraft. When a device moves because metal is flexing but isn’t permanently deformed, that’s called a compliant mechanism. Material scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are working on a new method of creating materials that can be used for motion-based mechanisms.
According to Douglas Hofmann, principal investigator of the research at JPL, these mechanisms in space will allow to increase precision in the instruments and decrease their mass. They may also prove useful for storing elastic energy that can be used in space to deploy components without having to use motors.
Hofmann and co-authors from JPL and Brigham Young envision applications for aerospace and defense. Sporting goods such as golf clubs could be made of these materials, and so could medical implants that need to flex in the body such as hip replacement components. On spacecraft, metallic glasses could be used for tilting and positioning mirrors, or for structures that open antennas or shoot cube satellites out of spacecraft. If metallic glasses can be made en mass like plastics, but retain robust properties of metals, they could also be used for a wide assortment of consumer devices, from laptops to robots to cars.