Last year, Paquette focused on advancing MinE Pack’s possible “housekeeping” function using the NASA Goddard-developed “Housekeeping-System-on-a-Chip,” a structured, radiation-hardened application-specific integrated circuit designed to monitor everything from voltages and currents to temperature levels, all while consuming less than half a Watt of power. Working with the chip’s creator, George Suarez, she defined the process for bonding the housekeeping chip onto a printed wiring electronics board.

“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,” she said.

Radiation Shielding for Sensitive Circuitry

NASA Goddard Principal Investigator Jean-Marie Lauenstein also is investigating the use of 3D printing to solve another electronics challenge — protecting sensitive circuitry from damage caused by exposure to space radiation.

“Dosages from radiation can degrade performance to the point where the electronics no longer work,” she explained. To protect them, instrument developers currently house sensitive components inside an electronics box made of metal. The thickness of that box depends in part on how much radiation the components are expected to encounter. Although the technique is effective, it “adds a tremendous amount of mass,” she said. Engineers also use “spot shielding,” which usually involves placing a slab of metal over the part.

The D-Wave Vesuvius processor (left), which provides the computing power of the D-Wave Two quantum computer (right), is cryogenically cooled to 20 millikelvin, or about -460 °F, two orders of magnitude colder than outer space. (NASA)
Lauenstein believes 3D printing offers an intriguing alternative because the protective metal could be printed selectively to enclose the part, minimizing volume and maximizing protection. She used a computer code that not only calculated how much shielding a component required on a given side, but also created a CAD drawing that a 3D printer then used to build the shielding. “We print shields tailored for specific package types for a hand-andglove fit to minimize mass and area,” she said.

Lauenstein’s team plans to continue tests to make sure the printed shields can withstand the harsh environmental conditions encountered during launch and in space. So far, Lauenstein is optimistic, believing 3D printing could allow instrument developers in the future to use more state-of-the-art, non-radiation-hardened circuits and rely less on mass-intensive, box-level shielding.

Quantum Computing

NASA’s Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (QuAIL) at Ames Research Center in California is the space agency’s hub for an experiment to assess the potential of quantum computers to perform calculations that are difficult or impossible using conventional supercomputers. NASA’s QuAIL team aims to demonstrate that quantum computing and quantum algorithms may someday dramatically improve the agency’s ability to solve difficult optimization problems for missions in aeronautics, Earth and space sciences, and space exploration.

Beginning with the D-Wave Two™ quantum computer, NASA’s QuAIL team is evaluating various quantum computing approaches to help address NASA challenges. Initial work focuses on theoretical and empirical analysis of quantum annealing approaches to difficult optimization problems. The team is also studying how the effects of noise, imprecision in the quantum annealing parameters, and thermal processes affect the efficacy and robustness of quantum annealing approaches to these problems. The team is also developing quantum AI algorithms, problem decomposition and hardware embedding techniques, and quantum-classical hybrid algorithms.