The focus of NASA’s most recent mission revolves around circuits manufactured using 3D printing technology.

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NASA’s Successful Space Mission Explores Hybrid 3D Printed Electronic Circuits for Spacecrafts

In a recent space mission, NASA delved into the capabilities of hybrid 3D printed electronic circuits for their spacecrafts. Led by Beth Pauette, an aerospace engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and Margaret Samuels, an electronics engineer, the mission launched on April 25th, 2023. The results of the mission were highly promising and could potentially aid NASA in fitting more technology into smaller spaces in future launches.

Although it may seem like groundbreaking news, missions like this are nothing new for NASA. In fact, this particular mission was part of a long-standing program called Suborbital Technology Experiment Carrier-9 (SubTEC9) rocket mission, which was established back in 2005. The purpose of this program is to test and demonstrate the capabilities of new and improved technology before incorporating them into actual space missions.

For this specific mission, the spacecraft was launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility near Chincoteague, Virginia. It ventured into the edge of space, reaching an impressive altitude of 174 kilometers (108 miles) above sea level. Despite the relatively short duration of the mission, it yielded valuable information about the electronic systems. The main focus of the experiments was on temperature and humidity sensors, which were 3D printed on the bay door and two attached panels. These sensors continuously monitored the SubTEC9 rocket throughout the mission, relaying essential data back to mission control.

With their tests deemed successful, NASA’s team concluded that the printed electronic technology showcased its readiness for space exploration. Furthermore, they recognized the technology’s potential to enhance the efficiency of payloads for future missions in both near-Earth and deep space endeavors.

The inks and circuits utilized in this innovative experiment were developed by Pauette and Samuels’ colleagues at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. The actual printing process was carried out by Engineer Jason Fleischer from the University of Maryland’s Lab for Physical Sciences (LPS). The precision of the process allowed for the printing of traces at a width of approximately 30 μm, which is about half the width of a human hair. Moreover, these circuits could be easily printed on any three-dimensional surface. By replacing traditional circuits with printed ones, the team hopes to reduce the space required for onboard electronics while also mitigating potential failure mechanisms associated with traditional circuit wire bonding. Additionally, this technology could contribute to the development of more precise antenna technology by increasing the range of angles at which data transmission and reception can occur in space.

It is truly remarkable to witness the continued exploration of 3D printing’s potential applications in space exploration. Merely two years ago, L3Harris made headlines by launching the first 3D printed circuit into space. Now, NASA’s mission further advances this trend. If the results continue to be as promising as those from this experiment, it is certain that the application of this technology will persist in this field for years to come.

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