News

Special Delivery: NASA Marshall Receives 3D-Printed Tools from Space

Engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, unboxed some special cargo from the International Space Station on April 6: the first items manufactured in space with a 3D printer.The items were manufactured as part of the 3D Printing in Zero-G Technology Demonstration on the space station to show that additive manufacturing can make a variety of parts and tools in space. The early in-space 3D printing demonstrations are the first steps toward realizing an additive manufacturing, print-on-demand “machine shop” for long-duration missions and sustaining human exploration of other planets, where there is extremely limited ability and availability of Earth-based resupply and logistics support. In-space manufacturing technologies like 3D printing will help NASA explore Mars, asteroids, and other locations.NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore installed the printer in the station’s Microgravity Science Glovebox in November 2014. Before the end of the year, the crew manufactured 21 items including a ratchet wrench, the first tool built in space. To make the items, the printer heated a relatively low-temperature plastic filament to build parts, layer on top of layer, in designs supplied to the machine. The printer remains on aboard the station for continued use later this year. The printer used 14 different designs and built a total of 21 items and some calibration coupons. The parts returned to Earth in February on the SpaceX Dragon. They were then delivered to Marshall where the testing to compare the ground controls to the flight parts will be conducted. SourceAlso: Learn about the Design and Fabrication of a Radio Frequency Grin Lens Using 3D Printing.

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Inkjet Technology Prints 'Soft Robot' Circuits

A new potential manufacturing approach from Purdue University researchers harnesses inkjet printing to create devices made of liquid alloys. The resulting stretchable electronics are compatible with soft machines, such as robots that must squeeze through small spaces, or wearable electronics. The conductors made from liquid metal can stretch and deform without breaking. The Purdue team's process allows users to print the flexible conductors onto elastic materials and fabrics.To make the printable ink, ultrasound technology disperses the liquid metal in a non-metallic solvent. The process breaks up the bulk liquid metal into nanoparticles, which are compatible with inkjet printing. After printing, the nanoparticles must be rejoined by applying light pressure, which renders the material conductive. Future research will explore how the interaction between the ink and the surface being printed on might be conducive to the production of specific types of devices. The researchers also will study and model how individual particles rupture when pressure is applied, providing information that could allow the manufacture of ultra-thin traces and new types of sensors.Source Also: Learn about Inkjet-Assisted Creation of Self-Healing Layers.

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Human Brain Inspires Wearable Microsensors

Wei Tang, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at New Mexico State University, is taking a cue from nature to devise the next generation of integrated, low-power, wearable micro-devices. The human brain inspired his approach in the novel design of a system of state-of-the-art miniaturized sensors that can detect, transmit, and reliably process valuable data.

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Will hydrogen fuel cell vehicles ever achieve widespread use?

This week's Question: Today's INSIDER story highlighted a discovery in alternative energy production that may provide a breakthrough for hydrogen-fueled vehicles. According to researcher Joe Rollin, the technology "has the potential to enable the widespread use of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles around the world and displace fossil fuels.” What do you think? Will hydrogen fuel cell vehicles ever achieve widespread use?

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Robotic Vehicle Explores Depths of Antarctica

A robotic vehicle developed by Georgia Institute of Technology scientists and engineers recently dove to depths never before visited under Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf.The team deployed (and retrieved) the vehicle through a 12-inch diameter hole. The "IceFin" searched through 20 meters of ice and another 500 meters of water to the sea floor.Icefin was deployed as a part of the Sub Ice Marine and Planetary–analog Ecosystem (SIMPLE) program, funded by NASA and supported by NSF. The robotic vehicle carried a scientific payload capable of measuring ocean conditions under the ice. Icefin’s readings, and video of the life that thrives in the harsh conditions, will help researchers understand how Antarctica’s ice shelves are changing under warming conditions. Scientists will also be able to examine how organisms thrive in cold and light-free environments. The technologies developed for Icefin will also assist in the search for life on other planets, namely Europa, a moon of Jupiter. Antarctica’s icy oceans are remarkably similar to Europa’s ice-capped oceans.SourceAlso: Learn how a NASA robot will explore volcanoes.

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Explosive Destruction System Begins Eliminating Chemical Weapons

The Explosive Destruction System (EDS), designed by Sandia National Laboratories for the U.S. Army, has begun safely destroying stockpile chemical munitions.

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Will airships be the future of "green" aviation?

A group of academics from the University of Lincoln, UK, believe airships may be the 'green' answer to the future growth of aviation . The Multibody Advanced Airship for Transport (MAAT) project, made up of eight nations and led by the Universita di Modena e Reggio Emilia in Italy, is working to design a cruiser which can travel across the globe on a set route. Smaller feeder ships carrying people and goods would then be able to dock onto the cruiser while it is still moving. To provide sufficient electric power during the day, photovoltaic arrays, mounted on the upper airship surface, harvest sunlight. What do you think? Will airships be the future of "green" aviation?

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