NASA has achieved new heights in space exploration with the use of 3D printed circuits.

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The Revolutionary Potential of 3D Printed Circuits in Space Exploration

Additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing, has taken industries by storm in recent years. Its transformative capabilities, such as customization, innovative design, and improved performance, have made it increasingly popular across various fields. Among these industries, space exploration stands out as a sector that has embraced 3D printing and recognized its potential.

NASA, the world-renowned space agency, has been at the forefront of researching and developing this groundbreaking technology for use in space missions. Collaborating with academic institutions, NASA engineers recently achieved a significant milestone by successfully testing hybrid printed electronic circuits near the edge of space. This remarkable feat marks a crucial step in the evolution of 3D printing technology.

The groundbreaking experiment took place during the Suborbital Technology Experiment Carrier-9 (SubTEC-9) mission, launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. The objective was to test the viability of printed circuits under space conditions. The sounding rocket reached an altitude of approximately 174 kilometers (108 miles), providing valuable data during its short flight.

The successful test highlights the potential of 3D printed electronic circuits in the development of smaller spacecraft with enhanced capabilities, opening up new opportunities for space exploration. Dr. Margaret Samuels, an electronics engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and co-leader of the SubTEC-9 experiment, explained, “The uniqueness of this technology is being able to print a sensor actually where you need it. The big benefit is that it’s a space saver. We can print on three-dimensional surfaces with traces of about 30 microns, which is half the width of a human hair or smaller between components. It could provide other benefits for antennas and radio frequency applications.”

The ability to print sensors directly where they are needed not only saves valuable space but also allows for the creation of intricate circuits with traces as thin as 30 microns, which is half the width of a human hair. This capability opens up possibilities for improved spacecraft design and performance, with applications extending to antennas and radio frequency components.

The collaboration between NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Maryland’s Laboratory for Physical Sciences (LPS) played a crucial role in the success of the SubTEC-9 mission. These experts worked together to develop humidity-sensing printing ink and circuits, showcasing the power of collaborative efforts in advancing cutting-edge technologies.

The success of the SubTEC-9 mission paves the way for further innovations. Engineers are now exploring the potential of printing temperature sensors throughout a spacecraft’s interior. This would enable a better understanding of the effects of heating and cooling during space missions, particularly when approaching celestial bodies like the Sun.

As NASA and its partners continue to refine and expand the capabilities of 3D printing, the scientific community eagerly anticipates the future possibilities it holds for space exploration. From improved functionality in antenna connections to the use of printed X-ray instruments, the applications are extensive and far-reaching.

What do you think of the revolutionary potential of 3D printed circuits? Let us know in the comments below or on our LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter pages! Don’t forget to sign up for our free weekly Newsletter here, which delivers the latest 3D printing news straight to your inbox! You can also find all our videos on our YouTube channel.

(Photo credits: NASA/Berit Bland)

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