A paper presents the concept of swarms of micron-sized and smaller carriers of sensing equipment, denoted generally as controllable granular matter, to be used in exploring remote planets and interplanetary space. The design and manufacture of controllable granular matter would exploit advances in microelectromechanical systems and nanotechnology. Depending on specific designs and applications, controllable granular matter could have characteristics like those of powders, sands, or aerosols, which would be dispersed into the environments to be explored: For example, sensory grains could be released into orbit around a planet, spread out over ground, or dispersed into wind or into a body of liquid. The grains would thus become integral parts of multiphase environments, where they would function individually and/or collectively to gather information about the environments. In cases of clouds of grains dispersed in outer space, it may be feasible to use laser beams to shape the clouds to perform specific functions. To enable the full utilization of controllable granular matter, it is necessary to advance the knowledge of the dynamics and controllable characteristics of both individual grains and the powders, sands, or aerosols of which they are parts.
This work was done by Marco Quadrelli of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Physical Sciences category. NPO-30708.