Innovations: Space and Next-Generation Electronics

The potential implications of innovations in space and communications technologies for social and life processes have been the subject of much debate.

Their influence on social and energy spaces has been examined to a larger extent.

Electronics Research Center, opened in Massachusetts, develops the space agency’s in-house expertise in electronics. The center’s accomplishments include developing a high-frequency (30-GHz) oscillator, a miniaturized tunnel-diode transducer, and a transistor more tolerant of space radiation.

The housekeeping chip is bonded onto an electronics board as the portion of research into the effectiveness of 3D manufacturing for electronics applications which has far-reaching applications in commercial industries.

Cooling Integrated Circuits

Future integrated circuitry is expected to look like skyscrapers — units will be accumulated on top of one another, including interconnects that will link each level to its nearby neighbors, much like how elevators attach one floor to the next. The difficulty is how integrated circuit designers can withdraw heat from these tightly packed 3D chips. The scantier the space between the chips, the more challenging it is to remove the heat.

Although circuit creators are still working on this request for commercial applications, the problem is complicated for those creating 3D integrated circuitry for space-based uses. Extracting heat from power-dense electronics has always presented challenges, seldom leading to extravagant designs because of the unique environment. Nevertheless, NASA might profit from this emerging technology in the future.

Innovations in Space

To ensure NASA profits from this emerging 3D circuit technology, a team has begun reviewing a technology that would give heat by flowing a coolant through embedded channels about the dimension of a human hair within or linking the chips.

In contrast, transferring heat in more conventional 2D integrated circuits is significantly modified. Planners create a “floor plan,” holding the heat-generating devices as far apart as possible. The heat progresses into the printed circuit board, where it is conducted to a clamp in the sidewall of the electronics case, eventually making its approach to a box-mounted radiator.

The team is investigating the effectiveness of “flow boiling,” where the coolant boils as it flows through the tiny gaps to improve the microchannel coolers. The technique offers a higher heat transfer rate, making devices more relaxed and less likely to fail due to overheating. It also relies on the adequate fluid’s latent heat of vaporization, which lessens the flow rate, minimizing pumping power.

The two-phase flows in miniature channels, intending to produce a list of guidelines for channel dimensions, course parameters, and fluid properties, including gravity insensitivity.

Faster Link Gives the Speed Scientists Need

Speed is everything for scientists studying the voluminous amounts of data collected daily by NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission. A new NASA-developed data-transmission technology established at the U.S. Antarctic Program’s McMurdo Station in Antarctica furnishes them the required speed.

SMAP adjusts the amount of water in the top two inches of soil throughout Earth’s surface, adapting between frozen or thawed ground. The mission is now producing global measurements with just its radiometer instrument after finding that the SMAP radar could no longer return data.

As the polar-orbiting SMAP hovers over Antarctica, it downlinks approximately 10 gigabytes of data during every pass to an X-band receiver positioned at the McMurdo Ground Station. A fiber-optic cable displays the data to the MTRS equipment housed 1.5 miles away inside a radome embracing the MTRS 4.6-meter antenna dish and the system’s high-speed terminal consisting of two boxes of electronic equipment. Every 12 hours, the data are transported to a TDRSS spacecraft that then downlinks the data to NASA for ultimate delivery to SMAP scientists.

Innovations in Space

Electronics Packaging of 3D Printing

IRAD, Internal Research & Development, program at NASA Goddard has awarded funding to a small number of researchers investigating how the agency might benefit from additive manufacturing or 3D printing.

EHD employs electric fields to pump coolant within tiny ducts inside a thermal cold plate. From there, the waste heat is discharged onto a radiator and scattered far from heat-sensitive circuitry that must work within specific temperature expanses. The advantages are many. The system is lighter and utilizes less power and space. In addition, the system can be scaled to assorted sizes because of mechanical hardware no long-drawn drives the size or deployment of the system inside an electronics box.

The device would connect various functions inherent in all instruments — housekeeping, power, digitization, control and data handling, data processing, and amplification — onto a single 3D chip or stack of chips.

Sensitive Circuitry Radiation Shielding

Radiation can diminish performance to the point where the microelectronics no longer work. Instrument developers house delicate components inside an electronics box made of metal to protect them. The thickness of the package depends in part on how much radiation the features are supposed to encounter. Although the procedure is effective, it adds an enormous amount of mass.

3D printing allows an intriguing alternative because the protective metal could be printed selectively to enclose the part, minimizing volume and maximizing protection. It used a computer code that calculated how much shielding a component required on a given side and created a CAD drawing that a 3D printer then used to build the shielding.

Innovations in Space

Quantum Computing

Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (QuAIL) in California is the space agency’s hub for an experiment to evaluate quantum computers’ potential to conduct challenging or impossible calculations using conventional supercomputers. NASA’s QuAIL aims to illustrate that quantum computing and quantum algorithms may someday dramatically advance the agency’s ability to explain complex optimization problems for Earth and space sciences, aeronautics, and space exploration missions.

NASA’s QuAIL team evaluates various quantum computing programs to help approach NASA challenges with the D-Wave Two quantum computer. Initial work concentrates on theoretical and empirical analysis of quantum annealing approaches to complex optimization problems. In addition, the team reveals quantum AI algorithms, problem decomposition and hardware embedding techniques, and quantum-classical hybrid algorithms.