NASA Research Could Expand AM’s Potential
Kyle Maxey posted on February 18, 2014 |

NASA, 3D printing, AM, chip, materials, shielding, radiation, space, computer, manufacturingNASA has long been known as an innovator in a wide array of engineering disciplines. Spurred on by its Internal Research and Development program (IRAD), a new generation of engineers is beginning to advance the state of space-based design through the use of 3D printing.

According to NASA, one area of engineering that could greatly benefit from additive manufacturing is electronics. In the first of three recently disclosed projects, NASA engineer Jeffrey Didion has been developing thermal control technology that doesn’t require the mechanical pumps used in contemporary systems.  Called electrohydrodynamic thermal control (EHD), Didion’s system “uses electric fields to pump coolant through tiny ducts inside a thermal cold plate.” Currently aboard the ISS, Didion’s EHD was manufactured using a 3D printer.

Second among NASA’s new AM applications is Beth Paquette’s improvements to the customizable MinE electronics package. In her research, Paquette has been trying to build more functionality into the chip, which monitors a wide variety of spacecraft systems. Working in concert with the MinE’s original designer, Paquette used 3D printing to integrate the chip into a printed wiring electronics board.

According to Paquette, "The future is looking to additive manufacturing techniques in electronics packaging. This opens up a lot of opportunities for miniaturized packaging, while decreasing the costs of spacecraft electronics”.

NASA, 3D printing, AM, chip, materials, shielding, radiation, space, computer, manufacturingIn the third IRAD AM project, Jean-Marie Lauenstein investigated how 3D printing could be used to protect circuits from the high doses of radiation found in outer space. While today’s radiation shields are effective, their mass and size leave something to be desired. In her research, Lauenstein has used metal laser sintering to create optimized protective barriers for shielding electronic components. "We print shields tailored for specific package types for a hand-and-glove fit to minimize mass and area," said Lauenstein.

According to NASA Goddard Chief Technologist Peter Hughes, the agency isn’t looking to recreate 3D printing techniques or pursue areas where AM has already proven itself. "We're interested in finding out how this technology can enhance NASA's ability to create one-of-a-kind instruments and components geared exclusively to studying and operating in space; in other words, improve what we already do well."

While some of NASA’s new AM methods will likely make it into mainstream engineering, continued development of 3D printing techniques can only advance our ability to create systems – propelling technology and manufacturing forward.

Images Courtesy of NASA

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