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NASA Has Awarded $300,000 To Support A 3D Printed Space Sensor Project

Views: 0     Author: Site Editor     Publish Time: 2024-05-08      Origin: Site


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In May 2024, NASA awarded $300,000 to Florida State University (FSU) and Florida Agricultural Machinery University (FAMU) to support a project that uses 3D printing technology to develop cutting-edge sensors that can withstand the harsh, extreme conditions of space. These devices are critical to space missions and can significantly improve the durability and accuracy of spacecraft monitoring systems. The project, titled "Electronic Additive Manufacturing for NASA Applications," is a collaboration between the College of Engineering, a joint venture between FSU and FAMU.


A multidisciplinary research team led by chemical and biomedical engineering professor Subramanian Ramakrishnan has produced silver ink-based strain sensors for various NASA space programs that can help predict and prevent potential failures by accurately transmitting changes in real time using conductive silver inks. These sensors are essential for monitoring the spacecraft's structural integrity, measuring how materials stretch and compress under pressure, ensuring that critical components of the spacecraft remain safe and functional during the mission.

The team used a 3D printing process combined with a laser annealing method to design sensors that outperform traditional strain sensors, which involves heating printed silver ink using a focused laser beam to improve its electrical and mechanical properties without melting it. The researchers say the technology enhances sensor performance, resulting in a device with a high strain coefficient (a measure of the sensor's sensitivity to strain). The increased sensitivity allows the sensor to more accurately detect changes under pressure or strain.


Strain sensors at the High Performance Materials Research Building, FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, Tallahassee, Florida

Ramakrishnan noted that the sensors, which were created with newly purchased nScrypt machines, are capable of printing on curved surfaces, a key feature for aerospace applications. The nScrypt machine used in the project is known for its precision and versatility, relying on the SmartPump micro-dispensing tool head to print directly on curved and irregular surfaces. This feature, introduced in 2021, is ideal for mounting sensors onto non-planar parts of spacecraft.

In addition to aerospace, nScrypt's technology has the potential to transform various industries by encouraging the production of complex electronics directly on the surface of objects. This could lead to innovations in embedded sensors, medical devices that fit into an individual's anatomy, and even wearable technology for drone and satellite components. nScrypt's fast operation and compatibility with a wide range of materials make it a powerful tool for accelerating product development and reducing manufacturing costs.

While laser annealing is not new, using it alongside 3D printed electronics for space projects is an innovative step in sensor design. This cross-cutting research aims to produce sensors that are more sensitive and durable, making them better suited to the harsh conditions of space.


Precision micro-dispensing, material extrusion, micro-milling and picking and placing tool heads can be run on the nScrypt Factory in the tool

As part of the NASA Science Mission Directorate's (SMD) Bridges Program, the project aims to promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility within the NASA workforce and the broader U.S. science and engineering community. This is part of NASA's first grant to support emerging research institutions.

Shahra Lambert, senior engagement advisor at NASA, said, "As the agency continues to build relationships with under-resourced agencies through initiatives like the Bridge Program, it is intentional to provide equitable access to NASA for America's best talent." These partnerships will help NASA develop a diverse and capable workforce to advance humanity's exploration of the universe."

nScrypt technology

nScrypt technology is an advanced 3D printing and microdistribution manufacturing solution known for high accuracy and a wide selection of materials, and key features of this technology include:

Precision microdistribution: nScrypt's devices are able to precisely distribute a variety of materials, including biological, conductive and structural materials.

Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM) : This technology enables the manufacturing of complex multi-material products directly from digital files, rather than just parts.

● Electronics and packaging: nScrypt technology can be used to print circuit structures and electronic devices, providing a new electronic manufacturing method.

SmartPump™ and nFD™ tool heads: These tool heads support printing with plastic, metal, ceramic and composite materials, combining multiple materials in a single build with outstanding tolerance control and accuracy.

nScrypt's technology is suitable for applications that require high precision and repeatability, such as biofabrication, 3D printed electronics, and precision microdistribution. In addition, nScrypt's printing system has a replaceable print head that enables smooth surfaces with fine features without the need for post-processing.

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