Spider silk breakthrough may enable tiny satellites

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In India, researchers at Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali have successfully processed spider silk and welded it with other materials, opening up new applications in  aerospace applications such as radiation pressure meters for tiny satellites.

The work, published recently in Nature Materials, involved the use of laser pulses to process the silk fiber with minimal damage. The laser pulses could also be used to fuse the silk with metals, glass and polymers.

“The femtosecond pulses in our study were produced with commercial lasers. But we had to design our own experimental setup to target these pulses on the fine silk fiber precisely,” says lead author Kamal P. Singh, School of Physical Sciences. “The mechanism of interaction of the silk with sub-10 femtosecond pulses was not known previously.”

The researchers say the work could impact efforts to build radiation pressure meters. Radiation pressure can be felt when the momentum carried by photons is transferred to objects in its path. “With NASA trying to build tiny satellites and space vehicles that can be propelled in space by the pressure of sunlight (without burning fuel), it is important to develop sensors that can measure these tiny forces accurately,” says Prof. Singh.