In Phase 1, an integrated fluid delivery platform and a custom made plasma driver has been developed for direct write, plasma jet printing technology. Direct write printing technologies play a key role in the fabrication of next generation of printed electronics products. The need for multiple tools for printing and processing different sets of materials will increase the payload, occupy large space and consume more resources in ISS, all of which are undesirable. Some challenges for mission infusion include development of suitable hardware and software for automated process development, multi-material printing, electrical, chemical safety and no air borne particulate by products of process. Some of the major technical milestones to be achieved in phase 2 is development of the above mentioned features including hardware and software development, design and development of fluid delivery for multi material printing and demonstration of multi material printing, biological & organics decontamination demonstration and electrical, chemical and air safety of the product for ground based testing. The phase 2 work is intended to develop the technology for potential infusion in to In-Space Manufacturing (ISM) Multi-material Fabrication Laboratory (FabLab) being developed under NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP). The main objective of phase 2 is to deliver a ground based plasma jet printing equipment fully capable of printing a wide range of materials including metals, semiconductors, dielectrics and organics using an advanced hardware and software control. Space Foundry is also developing cross cutting plasma jet capability for ISRU including sterilization and organics decontamination of science tools for preventing false positives and for planetary protection.
The overall objective of this R&D work is to take the first steps towards printed electronics manufacturing in space through mission infusion in to NextSTEP-2 FabLab. Some of the In-space manufacturing (ISM) applications of the technology includes on-demand fabrication of energy storage devices, gas sensors, bio sensors, interconnects, RF antenna etc., The ability to integrate the print head with additive manufacturing equipments will allow embedding structural electronics, health monitoring etc., on the manufactured product.
Printed electronic devices including flexible electronics, printed antenna and flexible hybrid electronics (FHE) are next generation internet of things connected smart devices that have applications in both consumer and industrial segments. Plasma jet printing has high potential to address the problems associated with printed electronics manufacturing, in particular the interconnects.