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China's rocket technology hits the ski slopes

Updated: Jan 19, 2022 Xinhua Print
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Who would ever have thought that technology used on China's largest carrier rocket would be used to improve the safety of skiers?

Chinese scientists have developed a strong ski helmet with space technology originally used on the Long March-5 rocket, the country's heaviest launch vehicle and the carrier of Mars probe Tianwen-1.

The helmet, designed by a team from the Dalian University of Technology in northeastern Liaoning Province, has been tested on Chinese freestyle skiers during their training on aerials and halfpipes for the upcoming Winter Olympics.

Ski helmets are headwear designed to protect skiers against impact caused by falling over or a collision when they are on the slopes. They must be lightweight and show strong resistance to impact.

The same principles apply to spacecraft, and scientists hoped to take advantage of the rocket's structure and materials to improve skiers' safety. It turns out that the high load-carrying efficiency achieved in space is also very useful for the shock-absorbing capacity of the helmet on the slopes.

In upgrading the design of ski helmets, the university's scientists have employed the structural design of the curved panels of the Long March-5 rocket. They reinforced the helmet shell with algorithm-based stiffeners applied to its curved surface.

They also used a new material made of carbon fiber, glass fiber and elastomer on the helmet's outer shell, making the protective gear lighter and stronger.

Lead researcher Hao Peng said the protective performance exceeds the European ski helmet testing standard by more than 20 percent.

"The use of this helmet has reduced the number of head injuries in training," said Li Ke, a coach with China's freestyle skiing team.

The research team is applying for a patent and seeking to forge cooperation with enterprises to market the helmet.

A two-stage rocket, the Long March-5 is capable of carrying a payload of 25 tonnes, equivalent to the weight of 16 cars, to low Earth orbit. It made its maiden flight in 2016 and launched the Mars probe Tianwen-1 and Chang'e-5 lunar probe in 2020.

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