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Researchers 3D print sensors for satellites

Cheap and quick to produce, these digitally manufactured plasma sensors could help scientists predict the weather or study climate change

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Written by Adam Zewe, MIT News Office

MIT scientists have created the first completely digitally manufactured plasma sensors for orbiting spacecraft. These plasma sensors, also known as retarding potential analyzers (RPAs), are used by satellites to determine the chemical composition and ion energy distribution of the atmosphere.

The 3D-printed and laser-cut hardware performed as well as state-of-the-art semiconductor plasma sensors that are manufactured in a cleanroom, which makes them expensive and requires weeks of intricate fabrication. By contrast, the 3D-printed sensors can be produced for tens of dollars in a matter of days.

Due to their low cost and speedy production, the sensors are ideal for CubeSats. These inexpensive, low-power, and lightweight satellites are often used for communication and environmental monitoring in Earth’s upper atmosphere.

The researchers developed RPAs using a glass-ceramic material that is more durable than traditional sensor materials like silicon and thin-film coatings. By using the glass-ceramic in a fabrication process that was developed for 3D printing with plastics, there were able to create sensors with complex shapes that can withstand the wide temperature swings a spacecraft would encounter in lower Earth orbit.

“Additive manufacturing can make a big difference in the future of space hardware. Some people think that when you 3D-print something, you have to concede less performance. But we’ve shown that is not always the case. Sometimes there is nothing to trade off,” says Luis Fernando Velásquez-García, a principal scientist in MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories (MTL) and senior author of a paper presenting the plasma sensors.

Joining Velásquez-García on the paper are lead author and MTL postdoc Javier Izquierdo-Reyes; graduate student Zoey Bigelow; and postdoc Nicholas K. Lubinsky. The research is published in Additive Manufacturing.

In an RPA, plasma passes through a series of electrically charged meshes dotted with tiny holes. As the plasma passes through each mesh, electrons and other particles are stripped away until only ions remain. This figure shows how the meshes fit inside the RPA housing, which aligns the meshes.
Credits:Courtesy of the researchers

Versatile sensors

An RPA was first used in a space mission in 1959. The sensors detect the energy in ions, or charged particles, that are floating in plasma, which is a superheated mix of molecules present in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. Aboard an orbiting spacecraft like a CubeSat, the versatile instruments measure energy and conduct chemical analyses that can help scientists predict the weather or monitor climate change. 

The sensors contain a series of electrically charged meshes dotted with tiny holes. As plasma passes through the holes, electrons and other particles are stripped away until only ions remain. These ions create an electric current that the sensor measures and analyzes.

Key to the success of an RPA is the housing structure that aligns the meshes. It must be electrically insulating while also able to withstand sudden, drastic swings in temperature. The researchers used a printable, glass-ceramic material that displays these properties, known as Vitrolite.

Pioneered in the early 20th century, Vitrolite was often used in colorful tiles that became a common sight in art deco buildings.

The durable material can also withstand temperatures as high as 800 degrees Celsius without breaking down, whereas polymers used in semiconductor RPAs start to melt at 400 degrees Celsius.

“When you make this sensor in the cleanroom, you don’t have the same degree of freedom to define materials and structures and how they interact together. What made this possible is the latest developments in additive manufacturing,” Velásquez-García says.

This figure shows an experiment in which the researchers set up their RPA to characterize it as an ion energy distribution sensor.
Credits:Courtesy of the researchers

Rethinking fabrication

The 3D printing process for ceramics typically involves ceramic powder that is hit with a laser to fuse it into shapes, but this process often leaves the material coarse and creates weak points due to the high heat from the lasers.

Instead, the MIT researchers used vat polymerization, a process introduced decades ago for additive manufacturing with polymers or resins. With vat polymerization, a 3D structure is built one layer at a time by submerging it repeatedly into a vat of liquid material, in this case Vitrolite. Ultraviolet light is used to cure the material after each layer is added, and then the platform is submerged in the vat again. Each layer is only 100 microns thick (roughly the diameter of a human hair), enabling the creation of smooth, pore-free, complex ceramic shapes.

In digital manufacturing, objects described in a design file can be very intricate. This precision allowed the researchers to create laser-cut meshes with unique shapes so the holes lined up perfectly when they were set inside the RPA housing. This enables more ions to pass through, which leads to higher-resolution measurements.

Because the sensors were cheap to produce and could be fabricated so quickly, the team prototyped four unique designs.

While one design was especially effective at capturing and measuring a wide range of plasmas, like those a satellite would encounter in orbit, another was well-suited for sensing extremely dense and cold plasmas, which are typically only measurable using ultraprecise semiconductor devices.    

This high precision could enable 3D-printed sensors for applications in fusion energy research or supersonic flight. The rapid prototyping process could even spur more innovation in satellite and spacecraft design, Velásquez-García adds.

“If you want to innovate, you need to be able to fail and afford the risk. Additive manufacturing is a very different way to make space hardware. I can make space hardware and if it fails, it doesn’t matter because I can make a new version very quickly and inexpensively, and really iterate on the design. It is an ideal sandbox for researchers,” he says.

While Velásquez-García is pleased with these sensors, in the future he wants to enhance the fabrication process. Reducing the thickness of layers or pixel size in glass-ceramic vat polymerization could create complex hardware that is even more precise. Moreover, fully additively manufacturing the sensors would make them compatible with in-space manufacturing. He also wants to explore the use of artificial intelligence to optimize sensor design for specific use cases, such as greatly reducing their mass while ensuring they remain structurally sound.

This work was funded, in part, by MIT, the MIT-Tecnológico de Monterrey Nanotechnology Program, the MIT Portugal Program, and the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology.

Edu News

NMIMS SBM Offers MBA (Part-Time) Program for Working Executives

The program focuses on providing a holistic education to enhance their employability

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Start your professional learning journey now with the best-in-class MBA (Part-Time) program with the most sought-after prestigious NMIMS, School of Business Management, featured in the top 100 global B-schools as per Financial Times MiM 2022 ranking. A highly respected business school in India with a legacy of 41 years and a prestigious faculty announces admissions open for their MBA (Part-Time) program at their Mumbai campus.

This program offers an opportunity for working executives to acquire a high-end compact management qualification through rigorous and qualitative in-class learning and practical exposure to industry expertise. The program focuses on providing a holistic education to enhance their employability, exposing working executives to contemporary trends and practices in management. It also provides excellent academic resources coupled with industry best practices to boost the managerial competence of executives.

NMIMS SBM MBA (Part-Time) is accredited by Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) for working executives who want to enhance their skills and advance their careers. NMIMS has world-class pedagogy to provide students with a comprehensive and engaging learning experience. NMIMS SBM has a team of experts with extensive experience in the business world. The program structure is upto 40% hybrid and 60% in the classroom, whereas Bloomberg Certification Program will help students use financial analysis tools more efficiently. 

“The program is specifically meant for executives who have spent quality time in the industry and have adequate exposure to managerial roles and responsibilities. The two-year MBA (Part-Time) program will offer an opportunity for participants to hone their managerial skills and enable them to contribute better to their decision-making. It has been designed to empower students with a well-planned schedule that allows for a balance between study and work,” said Dr. Prashant Mishra, Dean School of Business Management.

Dr. Pradeep Pai, Program Chairperson, MBA (Part-Time), School of Business Management, said, “NMIMS SBM is proud to offer this innovative program to working professionals who wish to take the next step in their careers. We believe that this program will be a preferred executive education program for working professionals seeking to upgrade their qualifications by acquiring a widely acclaimed MBA degree.”

The MBA (Part-Time) program goes beyond traditional education by providing learners value-added workshops and industry connections. Our curriculum is regularly updated to ensure students receive the most current knowledge. The program helps them gain a practical and theoretical understanding of the industry and creates a network of professionals for them as they progress.

Eligibility Criteria:

  • 50% in Graduation from a recognized University in any discipline. (Distance/Part time/Full time)
  • Minimum 3 years of work experience in an executive or supervisory capacity or self-employed after graduation & up to the date of written test/personal interview.
  • The work experience should be full-time experience and should NOT include internships, projects, training periods, trainee (management, engineering), etc.

Selection Process:

Written Test conducted for MBA (Part-Time) by NMIMS OR Candidates with GMAT score of 600 and above (GMAT score of last 5 years up to the closure of registrations will be considered) OR Candidates with a score of 200 and above in NMAT by GMAC examinations for 2020 admission AND Personal Interview

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eSecForte visited Northeast to strengthen Industry-Academia Interface for Achieving Effective Cybersecurity Prospects  

The team also visited the Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), Manipur and interacted with students on the topic of Digital Forensics Challenges and career options

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In an effort to create a holistic ecosystem for cybersecurity in the country, the team from eSecForte led by Lt Col (Dr.) Santosh Khadsare  (Retd), VP Digital Forensics  & Incident Response  visited the National Institute of Electronics and Information Technology (NEILT), Kohima and held discussions with the director of the institute, L. Lanuwabang. The deliberations were focused on enlarging the gambit of cybersecurity especially digital forensics in the country and how eSecForte and NEILT can come together to contribute effectively in this regard. 

The team also visited the Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), Manipur and interacted with students on the topic of Digital Forensics Challenges and career options. The discussion entailed how the use of digital forensics can prove instrumental in bringing the perpetrators of cybercrimes to the book. The various challenges related to the implementation of tools and methodologies of digital forensics were also part of the very constructive dialogue that was held between our team and enthusiastic students. 

The team lead had a very fruitful discussion with Dr Krishnan Bhaskar, Director, IIIT, Imphal and discussed how the Industry-Academia interface can do wonders in the field of cybersecurity and digital forensics. Specifically, detailed deliberations were held on devising exchange mechanisms and collaborative opportunities so that industry and academics can come together and lead to the creation of a self-sustainable ecosystem in the field of cybersecurity. Such development will ensure that cases related to the cybercrimes are dealt swiftly and lead to desired outcomes in terms of ensuring justice and well-being for all participating stakeholders. 

In the next leg of the reaching out journey, eSecForte’s team paid a visit to the National Forensic Science University (NFSU), Imphal campus and exchanged ideas with the campus coordinator on the latest trends and developments in the field of digital forensics. Apprising the importance of digital forensics to investigating officers, Lt Col (Dr.) Santosh Khadsare  (Retd), VP DFIR interacted with more than 400 trainees of the North Eastern Police Academy (NEPA), Shillong. These aspirants were thoroughly apprised of the importance of digital forensics and its utility in cracking cases related to cyberfrauds, cyberbullying, and other allied crimes associated with cyberspace. Case studies were discussed on how to handle digital evidence at the crime scenes with utmost care so that trace evidence won’t get lost in the logistical procedures and processes. The team showcased flagship products of eSecForte, Digital Forensic workstations and Faraday bags and informed them of the utility of these offerings built under India’s ambitious MAKE IN INDIA (MII) project. 

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Roots Collegium signs World Chess Champion Koneru Humpy as Brand Ambassador

Chairman, Sri. B.P.Padala announces Koneru Humpy as the Brand Ambassador of Roots Collegium educational institutions

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  • Humpy will be the face of its upcoming brand-related undertakings

Celebrating its 30 years’ legacy in imparting holistic education, Roots Collegium, a well-known educational institution in Hyderabad has today announced World Chess Champion Koneru Humpy as its Brand Ambassador. The appointment of Ms. Koneru Humpy is set to boost the brand image of Roots Collegium amplifying the institution’s philosophy in making its students achieve global exposure.

With the signing up of world chess champion Koneru Humpy as its Brand Ambassador, Roots Collegium will be exploring untapped areas of new-age innovations and add them to its list of achievements in the last 30 years. The fast expanding Roots Collegium, started in 1991, offers intermediate courses and almost all the streams of Bachelor’s degrees. Roots collegium is providing a wide range of courses like BBA, BBA (Business Analytics, B.Com (General, computers, sales), BA (Mass Communication, Psychology, and modern languages), and B.Sc. (Data Analysis). The college provides a variety of courses in design, film and media, visual arts, hotel management, culinary arts, and also many other certificate courses.

Reacting to her appointment, Koneru Humpy said “It is my pleasure to be the brand ambassador of Roots Collegium. I thank Sri. BP Padala gaaru for the honour. Roots Collegium as an institution has been offering the best educational facilities for its students for the last 30 years. Roots and I share a similar journey as we both have started our journey’s 30 years back. We both have same passion, integrity and ethics. That’s the special part about Roots Collegium, to which I instantly related to. And now we are ready to travel together.  As an ambassador, I look forward to contributing my committed services to the college and helping them grow in stature. I will take part in each and every event of the college and would like to share my thoughts and way-forward ideas in all its initiatives. Once again I want to thank all the staff and management for choosing me as a brand ambassador.”

Koneru Humpy is the FIDE Women’s rapid chess champion of 2019. She became the youngest woman to achieve the title of a Grandmaster back in 2002 at the age of 15. Her association will be an added feather to the cap of Roots Collegium’s growing achievements and a historic moment in its journey. 

The Chairman of Roots Collegium, Sri. B P Padala said “It’s our honour to have such a young and dynamic chess champion, Koneru Humpy as our brand ambassador. I wish the students of Roots Collegium will be motivated by such an inspiring champion who has come across a lot to be in this position today. I have no doubt that with her determination and strong belief, she become a world champion. I hope every student will inculcate the habit of not giving up and fighting for what they want, from her. She will be a role model for each and every student of our institution. I thank Koneru Humpy for accepting this position and people like her will definitely help bring change in society.”

The students of Roots Collegium from different places in Hyderabad city are excited and look forward to listen to the life-changing stories from Koneru Humpy in the future. 

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