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Columbia expands its involvement in Space exploration

In the Industry | December 18, 2023 | By: Marie O’Mahony, Ph.D.

Columbia Sportswear’s Omni-Heat Infinity was launched in 2021 and uses a distinctive gold metallic lining described by the company as being “the gold standard in warmth.” Photo: Columbia Sportswear.

While designing for the demands of sportswear can be challenging, Columbia Sportswear has pushed its game a step further by meeting the requirements demanded in Space. In his presentation at the Advanced Textiles Association’s Expo 2023, Haskell Beckham, the company’s vice president for innovation, outlined the process of taking a material inspired by Space, using it for sportswear on earth, then bringing it back to Space once again. 

This is the story of the brand’s Omni-heat technology, first launched in 2010, after which it went through several iterations before arriving at the most recent Omni-heat Infinity.  Metallic foils have been used in protection against cold in Space and on earth, and they have become a regular sight around athletes and trauma-victims in post-recovery. Columbia applied the idea in the form of metallic silver dots on the inner surface of the fabric, to reflect heat back to the wearer’s body.  In the latest development, it has used a metallic gold, among other innovations.

Omni-heat Infinity was launched in 2021 and uses a distinctive gold metallic lining described by the company as being “the gold standard in warmth.”  It has a greater surface coverage of 50 percent metallic as opposed to the original that had 25 percent. By leaving space between the dots heat and moisture are allowed to escape through the breathable liner and wick away from the body, preventing the wearer from overheating.  

The Double Wall Elite jackets used in hiking and other activities, have a double wall design that holds onto heat while deflecting wind, and it also has a water-resistant finish. However, the company is also taking the material back to the place of original inspiration, which is Space, forming a protective blanket for the Nova-C lunar lander. This project is in cooperation with Intuitive Machines, contractors to NASA, as part of the agency’s Lunar Payload Delivery Services (CLPS) initiative.  

To achieve the level of protection needed in the extreme environment of Space required further refinements. The number of layers has increased with the space between each layer performing an important function in deflecting radiation at each layer to significantly reduce the risk of damage to the lander.  

Looking to the next generation, Columbia Sportswear and Intuitive Machines are partnering to offer scholarship and partnership opportunities to women in the STEM program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.  The program was launched in the Spring of 2023. 

Dr. Marie O’Mahony is an industry consultant, author and academic, and she is a frequent contributor to Textile Technology Source. 

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