NASA has granted the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology with $750,000 from the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) for the development of direct-write printable spacecraft, reports South Dakota Public Broadcasting.
SDPB interviewed School of Mines associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Dr. Dimitris Anagnostou, to learn more about the project. Dr. Anagnostou says that the SDSM&T team, along with faculty and students from the University of South Dakota and South Dakota State University, has been working to develop materials and technology using 3D printing that would be suitable for the direct-write printable spacecraft project.
The direct-write printable spacecraft would make landing larger spacecrafts on planets for exploration unnecessary. Instead, thin, lightweight, flexible sheets would be ejected once the mother spacecraft was close enough to a planet or other body, landing and then studying and transmitting data about the soil, atmosphere, and weather conditions on the ground. Data collected would also be dependent on NASA specifications.
It is now unknown when the products of this effort will be seen in space, but Dr. Anagnostou estimates that this technology could be used for space missions in 10-15 years. After NASA has seen more development on the materials and printing processes necessary to create these crafts, they will be tested against real space conditions.
Similar technology has been used in aviation and medicine.
Listen to the full radio report here.