Space material prevents road rash

Bikers
Bikers
22 December 2010

A French company has found business success by blending high-tech fibres used in an ESA space mission with old-fashioned denim to create comfortable, stylish protective gear for bikers.

Like 75% of European motorcycle riders, Pierre-Henry Servajean was wearing regular jeans when he took a bad spill on his bike in 1995:

“I realised everything I had on my body was perfect – my helmet, gloves, jacket – except the jeans. I had suitable things for every part of my body, except my legs.”

Bike accident
Bike accident

The realisation triggered a decade-long quest to find a fabric that combines the comfort and breathability of denim with the strength and abrasion resistance of protective gear like motorcycle leathers.

It ultimately led him to the founding of ESquad, a fashion label devoted to ultra-durable motorcycle jeans.

Pierre-Henry knew there were many fabrics that might fit part of the bill. Kevlar, for example, is legendarily tough.

Motorcycle jeans with space fibers
High-tech jeans

But Kevlar has some major flaws when it comes to apparel. It doesn’t ‘breathe’, in the woven form it is uncomfortable to wear and starts to disintegrate when it’s exposed to the ultraviolet in sunlight.

To find a fibre that could beat Kevlar, Pierre-Henry had to go further afield. After extensive research, he lit upon a fibre known as ‘ultra high molecular weight polyethylene’ (UHMWPE).

It is a form of polyethylene, the world’s most common plastic, but the fibres are twice as strong as Kevlar, and 10–100 times stronger than steel.

Held ESA satellite on 30 km tether

Deployment of YES2's 30 km-long line of UHMWPE fibres
Deployment of YES2

UHMWPE is so strong yet so lightweight that in 2007 it was used to produce a very special line for the YES2 tether experiment that piggybacked on ESA's Foton-M3 microgravity mission.

Only half a millimetre thick, a 30 km-long line of UHMWPE fibres dangled a small reentry capsule in orbit, demonstrating that 'space mail' can be sent using a relatively simple and cheap mechanism.

UHMWPE fibres
UHMWPE

By taking the same fibres and wrapping them in cotton, Pierre-Henry managed to create a fabric that combines the qualities of jeans with the toughness and strength of UHMWPE: “In the core of the yarn, instead of cotton you have high-performance fibre.

Working with ESA’s technology transfer broker in France, Nodal, Pierre-Henry’s Armalith fabric is being highlighted by ESA as part of its Technology Transfer Programme to find use in other non-space sectors.

Hummer hanging in high-tech jeans
Hummer hanging in high-tech jeans

The fabric is a perfect combination of abrasion resistance, strength and comfort.

Tested to European standards, it measures up to motorcycle leather in terms of crash protection.

To demonstrate the fabric’s strength, Pierre-Henry orchestrated a unique publicity stunt: he suspended a 2700 kg Hummer from a pair of the jeans.

The motorcycle community has gotten the message already: ESquad jeans are sold in motorcycle shops all over Europe, and have earned rave reviews from motorcycle magazines in France and Germany.

Strong jeans pulls car stock in sand
Strong jeans pulls car stock in sand

ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office (TTPO)

The TTPO’s main mission is to facilitate the use of space technology and space systems for non-space applications and to demonstrate the benefit of the European space programme to European citizens.

The office is responsible for defining the overall approach and strategy for the transfer of space technologies, including the incubation of start-up companies and their funding. For more information, please contact:

ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office
European Space Agency
Keplerlaan 1
2200 AG, Noordwijk
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 71 565 6208
Email: ttp@esa.int

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