Here on Earth, if your sink springs a leak, you can call in a plumber, or if you’re handy, you can head out to the local hardware store, buy a few replacement parts, and fix the problem yourself. If the leak isn’t particularly bad, you can even place a bucket under the sink to catch the dripping water and put the chore off until the weekend. These options aren’t exactly available to astronauts working on the International Space Station. They can’t call in a specialist to make repairs when problems occur, and they can’t run out to the hardware store for the exact parts needed for a repair. Plus, there isn’t much free time in an astronaut’s onboard schedule. Repairs need to be made as soon and as efficiently as possible. Toward that end, NASA funded the design of simple and reusable patch repair systems for servicing, maintaining, and repairing structural components in space without the need for heavy machinery or an expense of time.
Cornerstone Research Group Inc. (CRG), of Dayton, Ohio, works in a variety of fields to produce high-tech solutions and provide technology development services. CRG specializes in transitioning new ideas from the laboratory to the market, which made it a good fit for working with NASA. It has been the recipient of 16 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contracts with NASA, with a variety of different focuses, including projects like creating inflatable structures for radio frequency antennas and, most recently, healable polymer matrix composites for future space vehicles. One of its earlier SBIR contracts, with Kennedy Space Center, led to the development of a new type of structural patch for a variety of consumer uses. While this particular project only ran through a Phase I contract with NASA, according to CRG’s Brenda Hood, “So much happened during that initial Phase I research that we knew we had a product with a lot of commercial value.”
CRG Industries LLC, of Dayton, Ohio—a spinoff company of Cornerstone designed to manufacture and distribute the state-of-the-art materials developed by its parent company and specializing in moving the advanced research into the consumer markets—has commercialized the NASA-derived material under two trademarked names: Rubbn’Repair, for automotive uses; and Rec’Repair for the outdoors and adventure market.
The Rubbn’Repair patch is tailored for automotive use, providing rigid, strong repairs for holes and damage to body panels, fenders, and bumpers, with the capability to even replace missing structural or body material. Once the adhesive patch is heated to approximately 194 °F, it becomes flexible and moldable and can be applied to the damaged area. When the material cools—in seconds—it becomes a rigid structural patch.