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Antenna and sensor components get plasma jet printed in microgravity

Latest milestone from Space Foundry opens new possibilities for in-space on-demand manufacturing of electronics

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Space Foundry successfully demonstrated its plasma jet printing technology in microgravity using parabolic flight (G-FORCE ONE, a specially modified Boeing 727-200) operated by Zero Gravity Corporation. The Space Foundry team printed silver lines, pads, interdigitated electrodes and a wifi-antenna. The development of plasma jet printing for space applications is part of NASA’s On-Demand Manufacturing of Electronics (ODME) project, part of the Game Changing Development Program. The flights were supported by an SBIR Phase II-E award, funded jointly by NASA SBIR and the NASA Flight Opportunities Program.

The plasma jet printer that was used in microgravity.

Plasma jet printing technology is based on the interaction between aerosolized ink and plasma. By carefully controlling the plasma creation process, the electronic structure of the ink materials can be tailored and the oxidation state of the metals can be precisely controlled. The printed pattern is dry and hence no curing is needed. This capability of plasma jet printing is attractive for aerospace and defense customers who are interested in direct-write printing on large curved, non-planar surfaces.

NASA’s interest in plasma jet printing is due to its inherent ability to tailor the electronic structure of materials without additional post-processing and the ability to control fluid flow using an electromagnetic field, making it gravity independent. The Plasma jet printer used in parabolic flights is a multilateral printing platform that can print a wide range of materials including metals, dielectrics, organics and bioinks. Antennas and interdigitated electrodes printed in zero gravity can have a wide range of In-Space Manufacturing applications including energy harvesting, inventory control, power distribution, bio and gas sensor manufacturing (e.g. as biosensors and gas sensors have limited shelf life, astronauts can produce these sensors on demand). In the future, plasma jet printing can potentially be used as part of the commercialization of low earth orbit and for manufacturing on the lunar surface.

Plasma jet directed onto the substrate. In the photos below, silver patterns printed in zero gravity using the plasma jet printer: Interdigitated electrodes (left) and a wifi-antenna (right).

Space Foundry Inc., a spinoff of NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California has pioneered plasma jet printing technology for additive electronics. Founded by Dr. Ram Prasad Gandhiraman, a former contractor at the NASA Ames Research Center, and Dr. Dennis Nordlund from Stanford University, Space Foundry is in the business of selling equipment and printed service.

Acknowledgments: The flight demonstration was funded through NASA contracts 80NSSC19C0136 and 80NSSC21C0427. The antenna design is based on research sponsored, in part, by Air Force Research Laboratory under agreement FA8650-15-2-5401, conducted through the flexible hybrid electronics manufacturing innovation institute, NextFlex.



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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites and, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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