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What Adidas Wants to Learn From Studying Footwear Foam in Space

Adidas is getting ready to blast Boost into space.

Next month, the Adidas is partnering with NASA on a science investigation that will test footwear manufacturing methods in the microgravity environment of the International Space Station (ISS) along with several other experiments, including the testing of new 3D printing techniques.

The experiment will launch into orbit from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station via a SpaceX commercial resupply services mission leaving on March 2. Once on the station, scientists will study the effect of a near-zero gravity environment on the process used for performance midsole manufacturing, like the one needed to create the Adidas Boost.

The experiment, dubbed the Boost Orbital Operations on Spheroid Tessellation investigation, will test a manufacturing method called particle foam molding. On Earth, spongey footwear foam is created by blowing thousands of pellets into a mold in order to fuse them together into a single piece of foam. However, scientists on the ISS will experiment with various types of pellet combinations to manipulate the foam’s mechanical properties.

In a low-gravity space environment, scientists will be able to see the motion and location of the pellets more clearly and with greater precision.

“Results of this investigation could demonstrate the benefits of microgravity research for manufacturing methods, contributing to increased commercial use of the space station,” according to a NASA statement. “New processes for particle foam molding could benefit a variety of other industries, including packaging and cushioning materials.”

The March 2 voyage will include experiments concerning self-assembly and self-replication of materials using 3D printing. This technology could enable NASA to repair parts and facilities remotely, increasing the practicality of longer voyages. However, the experiment has many commercial applications, including in the medical, electronic and manufacturing industries.

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NASA, in conjunction with the European Space Agency and Airbus, is also using the voyage as an opportunity to ship the new “Bartolomeo” facility to the ISS. Bartolomeo will act as a hub for experiments both institutional and commercial, opening up the door for more companies to participate after Adidas.

Adidas announced the space venture in November, releasing an early, space-themed model of its new Ultraboost 20 athletic sneaker, aiming to “unlock the future of Boost.”

“The design aesthetic of the new Adidas Ultraboost 20 takes inspiration from our partnership with the ISS U.S. National Lab and, with more to come from the partnership, we plan on taking Boost to even greater heights,” Adidas said at the time.

Adidas recently released an updated 2020 running suite, including the Ultraboost 20 and the marathon-ready Adizero sneaker.

However, Adidas isn’t the only athletic player to take an interest in space exploration. A month before Adidas announced its ISS partnership, Under Armour partnered with Virgin Galactic to create spacewear for future commercial low-orbit travelers.