UW professors awarded $750,000 NASA grant for in-space manufacturing research - Casper, WY Oil City News
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UW professors awarded $750,000 NASA grant for in-space manufacturing research

Completion of Avcoat block bonding on Artemis II Heatshield (Image Credit: NASA/Isaac Watson)

CASPER, Wyo. — Three University of Wyoming professors have been awarded a $750,000 grant from NASA “to lead a team of researchers in developing machine learning materials and manufacturing methods for space.”

“The three-year grant for their project, titled ‘Artificially Intelligent Manufacturing of Flexible Electronics’ was funded through NASA’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR),” the university said on Thursday, July 30.

UW says the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences team includes Chemical Engineering Associate Professor Patrick Johnson, Computer Science Assistant Professor Lars Kotthoff and Mechanical and Energy Systems Engineering Assistant Professor Dipluneet Aidhy.

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Scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center are also collaborating on the project.

“Crucial for space exploration is developing flexible electronics and in-space manufacturing,” Johnson said in UW’s announcement. “The limitations to the kind of objects that can be made in space with additive manufacturing techniques is an important and vexing problem, and NASA has put a high priority on identifying solutions to this challenge.”

Johnson told UW that NASA’s partner Made in Space have developed a 3D printer called VULCAN which “will be able to use metals and polymers for additive manufacturing.” Made in Space have also developed a system called Archinaut able “to manufacture large-scale parts that cannot be transported into space.”

The technology will allow manufacturing of parts to occur in space during missions. Parts include things like heat shields and antennae. But UW says that “while both methods hold a lot of promise, they come with a number of drawbacks.”

“Made In Space’s approach cannot manufacture electronics from scratch, but only integrate existing components,” Johnson told the university. “Inkjet printing relies on different materials, namely different inks and the substrates, to be available. The size of the manufactured circuit is limited to the size of the inkjet printer. Both techniques require relatively large amounts of power over relatively long periods of time to operate.”

The UW research team is working from UW’s Artificially Intelligent Manufacturing center. The university says they have developed a technique that addresses the drawbacks of Made in Space’s approach.

“Our team is researching thin films of a single material that can be treated with a low-power laser to manufacture circuits and replace or upgrade devices,” Johnson explained in the release. “This technique can be used to create submicron-scale conductive lines in carbon materials of arbitrary dimensions and consumes less power than 3D and inkjet printing techniques.”

The research team are looking to integrate materials development and computer science “for the development of powerful methods to design and model the behavior of advanced materials and manufacture of advanced devices.” UW says the $750,000 grant will allow the team to “continue to foster interdisciplinary research among chemical engineering, mechanical engineering and computer science.”

The project also provides opportunities to UW undergraduate and graduate students to help them apply “machine learning to advance laser manufacturing and computational materials science research.”

“The grant enables the production of advanced materials and training of machine learning scientists in advanced manufacturing processes, which is especially important in the current economic climate,” Johnson told UW. “This grant will help facilitate Wyoming’s transition to a high-tech state and attract investment beyond its traditional industries.”