Search
Close this search box.

We are creating some awesome events for you. Kindly bear with us.

U.S. Develops 3D-Prints Satellite Sensors

Image credits: news.mit.edu

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed the first circling spacecraft plasma sensors that were entirely digitally produced. Satellites utilise these plasma sensors, also known as retarding potential analysers (RPAs), to evaluate the atmosphere’s chemical composition and ion energy distribution.

“Additive manufacturing can make a big difference in the future of space hardware. Some people think that when your 3D-print something, you have to concede less performance. But we’ve shown that is not always the case. Sometimes there is nothing to trade-off,” says Luis Fernando Velásquez-García, a principal scientist in MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories (MTL) and senior author of a paper presenting the plasma sensors.

3D-printed and laser-cut hardware outperformed state-of-the-art semiconductor plasma sensors manufactured in a cleanroom, which is costly and takes weeks to complete. 3D-printed sensors, on the other hand, can be produced in a matter of days for tens of dollars.

The sensors are ideal for CubeSats due to their low cost and quick production. These low-cost, low-power satellites are frequently used for communication and environmental monitoring in the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

The researchers created RPAs out of a glass-ceramic material that is more durable than traditional sensor materials like silicon and thin-film coatings. By using glass-ceramic in a fabrication process developed for 3D printing with plastics, they were able to create sensors with complex shapes that can withstand the wide temperature swings that a spacecraft would encounter in lower Earth orbit.

The sensors are made up of a series of electrically charged meshes with tiny holes. Electrons and other particles are stripped away as plasma passes through the holes, leaving only ions. These ions generate an electric current, which the sensor detects and analyses.

The housing structure that aligns the meshes is critical to the success of an RPA. It must be electrically insulating while also being able to withstand sudden, drastic temperature swings. The researchers used Vitrolite, a printable glass-ceramic material with these properties.

Ceramic powder is typically hit with a laser to fuse it into shapes in 3D printing, but this process often leaves the material coarse and creates weak points due to the high heat from the lasers. Rather, the MIT researchers used vat polymerisation, a decades-old process for additive manufacturing with polymers or resins. A 3D structure is built one layer at a time using vat polymerisation by repeatedly submerging it in a vat of liquid material, in this case, Vitrolite.

After each layer is added, ultraviolet light is used to cure the material, and the platform is submerged in the vat once more. Because each layer is only 100 microns thick (roughly the diameter of a human hair), smooth, pore-free, complex ceramic shapes can be created.

Objects described in a design file can be very intricate in digital manufacturing. The researchers were able to create laser-cut meshes with unique shapes, allowing the holes to line up perfectly when they were set inside the RPA housing. More ions can pass through, resulting in higher-resolution measurements.

Because the sensors were inexpensive to produce and could be manufactured quickly, the team prototyped four distinct designs. While one design was particularly effective at capturing and measuring a wide range of plasmas, such as those encountered by a satellite in orbit, another was well-suited for sensing extremely dense and cold plasmas, which are normally only measurable using ultraprecise semiconductor devices.

This level of precision may enable 3D-printed sensors to be used in fusion energy research or supersonic flight. Rapid prototyping may even encourage more innovation in satellite and spacecraft design.

PARTNER

Qlik’s vision is a data-literate world, where everyone can use data and analytics to improve decision-making and solve their most challenging problems. A private company, Qlik offers real-time data integration and analytics solutions, powered by Qlik Cloud, to close the gaps between data, insights and action. By transforming data into Active Intelligence, businesses can drive better decisions, improve revenue and profitability, and optimize customer relationships. Qlik serves more than 38,000 active customers in over 100 countries.

PARTNER

As a Titanium Black Partner of Dell Technologies, CTC Global Singapore boasts unparalleled access to resources.

Established in 1972, we bring 52 years of experience to the table, solidifying our position as a leading IT solutions provider in Singapore. With over 300 qualified IT professionals, we are dedicated to delivering integrated solutions that empower your organization in key areas such as Automation & AI, Cyber Security, App Modernization & Data Analytics, Enterprise Cloud Infrastructure, Workplace Modernization and Professional Services.

Renowned for our consulting expertise and delivering expert IT solutions, CTC Global Singapore has become the preferred IT outsourcing partner for businesses across Singapore.

PARTNER

Planview has one mission: to build the future of connected work. Our solutions enable organizations to connect the business from ideas to impact, empowering companies to accelerate the achievement of what matters most. Planview’s full spectrum of Portfolio Management and Work Management solutions creates an organizational focus on the strategic outcomes that matter and empowers teams to deliver their best work, no matter how they work. The comprehensive Planview platform and enterprise success model enables customers to deliver innovative, competitive products, services, and customer experiences. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, with locations around the world, Planview has more than 1,300 employees supporting 4,500 customers and 2.6 million users worldwide. For more information, visit www.planview.com.

SUPPORTING ORGANISATION

SIRIM is a premier industrial research and technology organisation in Malaysia, wholly-owned by the Minister​ of Finance Incorporated. With over forty years of experience and expertise, SIRIM is mandated as the machinery for research and technology development, and the national champion of quality. SIRIM has always played a major role in the development of the country’s private sector. By tapping into our expertise and knowledge base, we focus on developing new technologies and improvements in the manufacturing, technology and services sectors. We nurture Small Medium Enterprises (SME) growth with solutions for technology penetration and upgrading, making it an ideal technology partner for SMEs.

PARTNER

HashiCorp provides infrastructure automation software for multi-cloud environments, enabling enterprises to unlock a common cloud operating model to provision, secure, connect, and run any application on any infrastructure. HashiCorp tools allow organizations to deliver applications faster by helping enterprises transition from manual processes and ITIL practices to self-service automation and DevOps practices. 

PARTNER

IBM is a leading global hybrid cloud and AI, and business services provider. We help clients in more than 175 countries capitalize on insights from their data, streamline business processes, reduce costs and gain the competitive edge in their industries. Nearly 3,000 government and corporate entities in critical infrastructure areas such as financial services, telecommunications and healthcare rely on IBM’s hybrid cloud platform and Red Hat OpenShift to affect their digital transformations quickly, efficiently and securely. IBM’s breakthrough innovations in AI, quantum computing, industry-specific cloud solutions and business services deliver open and flexible options to our clients. All of this is backed by IBM’s legendary commitment to trust, transparency, responsibility, inclusivity and service.