UW Professors Refine Manufacturing Process For Space

Aug 6, 2020

The International Space Station.
Credit NASA/Crew of STS-132

It's difficult to build electronics in space, but a University of Wyoming and NASA partnership is working on a method.

Patrick Johnson, a UW professor of chemical engineering, is part of the team that just received a three year NASA grant. Johnson said other research groups are working on how to 3D print in space, but their own method is different.

"We're trying to use low power lasers to write circuits into materials," he said. "In an insulating matrix, in something that doesn't conduct electricity, we try to draw lines into it that will be conductive."

Johnson said this lets them create a circuit board on lots of different materials. He explained the trick is figuring out the best set-up for the process, which means the team needs to test different configurations to figure out what works.

UW computer science assistant professor Lars Kotthoff said the project will be helpful for future space missions.

"The main goal of this project is to eventually enable NASA and other agencies to build electronic devices, small electronic devices, in situ, in space rather than having to build electronic components on Earth and then ship them up at great cost for example to the international space station," he said.

Johnson and Kotthoff said this technique will become more important as we travel further from Earth because it will be less expensive than shipping electronics to space.

Have a question about this story? Please contact the reporter, Ashley Piccone, at apiccone@uwyo.edu.