3D printed sensors can do wonders for NASA

NASA's sensors might take humans on Mars

3D printing has taken a huge leap in recent years. It has been used widely in many applications. There are entire bikes and cars which are 3D printed and it becomes more and more popular as many tech-giants are using it. The technology was realized in the 1990s when it was termed as rapid prototyping and was only used in special cases but it has now turned into a manufacturing process for many. It is now used as an additive manufacturing process by many industries.

That said, 3D printers can literally print or carve out any shape you want of any size. The only thing that it needs is a viable design. This has helped people design a lot of things and make their dreams a reality. In that case, a NASA team based in Goddard Space Flight Center did wonders using this very technology. They have invented or developed sensors which might just transform the way we explore other planets in our solar system.

The sensors Mahmooda Sultana and her team are developing at Goddard Space Flight Center, might just help NASA to explore the planets around us in a better way. These sensors could sense minutes of particles or concentrations of gases, vapor, water or even methane on other planets. This could be extremely helpful in sending astronauts to Mars or Moon in the future. For this research and making of such sensors, 3D printing has played a huge part. NASA has even awarded the team a $2 million price for exemplary work in the field and taking the science forward.

The fact that 3D printing played a huge part is because building a sensor that can sense multiple things is a tedious task. At this moment, a single sensor is manufactured and then integrated into a system and many such sensors are made separately before integrating them into one of the systems. This makes it even harder to make them. The task also becomes lethargic and many things could go wrong.

However, 3D printing allows scientists to print many sensors on one platform which reduces the amount of work required. This also takes out the errors that happen while integrating certain systems. That is the reason 3D printing is used and it is used to a great extent.

The sensors are made from nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes, graphene, molybdenum disulfide and other highly sensitive materials which could help these sensors.

3D printing, however, was developed by a group from Northeastern University in Boston. It applies nanomaterials, on the substrate or a platform to create tiny sensors which are done layer by layer. Sultana and her team are going to do the same. They are going to create a platform by identifying which materials and which sensors are best suited. This will help create a system which can help NASA in building rovers which can go and explore the planets before astronauts.

This is very important as current rovers on Mars and Moon are pretty limited when it comes to exploring things. That said, if the sensing ability of a rover enhances, it could be one of the most important developments in science and space exploration. We could literally see astronauts on Mars in the coming years.

-Unmesh Phule

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