3D Printed Electronics for Space Applications: The Advantage of Curvature.

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NASA recently made an exciting announcement regarding a successful test of 3D printed electronics in space. This development has captured the attention of the 3D print community, as it raises questions about the need for 3D printed electronics when 2D chips are readily available at a low cost. However, there are certain advantages to 3D printing electronics, especially in space-based applications.

One key advantage lies in the ability to print electronics directly onto the surfaces of spacecraft, which are almost always curved. Unlike standard electronics, which are flat and separate components, this allows the printed electronics to seamlessly become part of the spacecraft. Additionally, there is no need for the labor-intensive work of installing separate components and wiring them. This not only reduces the chances of failure during space flights but also optimizes space efficiency.

In terms of volume, occupying less space is crucial for space missions. While weight is the primary concern, available volume is also vital. By conforming to the curves of the spacecraft, 3D printed electronics can significantly reduce the amount of space required compared to separately installed electronic components. In the recent test conducted by NASA, the printed electronics were incredibly small, with traces as narrow as 0.03mm. This demonstrates the potential for future spacecraft to integrate extremely compact electronics.

The research team at NASA identified various additional benefits of 3D printed electronics. One such benefit was highlighted by Margaret Samuels, an electronics engineer at NASA Goddard. She explained, “We can print the antenna on a curved surface like the outside of a rocket or spacecraft, increasing the angles at which it can send and receive signals in space.” This development has the potential to revolutionize signal transmission and reception on spacecraft, enhancing flight reliability and safety.

To demonstrate the effectiveness of 3D printed electronics, the team produced and installed temperature and humidity sensors on the door and panels of a sounding rocket mission. Sounding rockets, although not reaching orbit, briefly enter the space environment. The successful test of these printed electronics on the sounding rocket mission marks an important milestone.

Moving forward, we eagerly await further tests conducted by NASA to explore the capabilities and potential of this groundbreaking approach to space electronics. The successful integration of 3D printed electronics in space has opened up new possibilities, offering solutions to challenges faced by traditional electronic components. As NASA continues to push the boundaries of space exploration, their innovative use of 3D printing technology showcases the exciting advancements that lie ahead.

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