NASA panel mulls down-to-earth control applications

Space technology continues to trickle down to industrial applications and add to control and automation's knowledge base, according to a NASA panel, "Space Technology and its Applications to Industry," during National Manufacturing Week, March 16-19, in Chicago.Earth orbit can benefit earth-bound manufacturing because zero-gravity allows production of higher purity/q...

05/01/1998


Space technology continues to trickle down to industrial applications and add to control and automation's knowledge base, according to a NASA panel, "Space Technology and its Applications to Industry," during National Manufacturing Week, March 16-19, in Chicago.

Earth orbit can benefit earth-bound manufacturing because zero-gravity allows production of higher purity/quality materials in forms not presently possible. Examples include thin films, flame synthesis of ceramic powders, porous materials for bone replacement, optical fibers, "compound semiconductors" made from newer compounds that can't be made pure enough on earth, and scrap loss reductions in industrial casting.

Dr. Alex Ignatiev, director of the Space Vacuum Epitaxy Center, University of Houston, says one problem is that, while low-earth orbits offer microgravity, they don't produce a high enough vacuum to make ultra-pure materials. However, a moving space vehicle creates a much higher vacuum field in its wake (1,000X). Thus, towing a wake shield behind the craft creates the "ultimate clean room" for semiconductor production. Yields of 65-70% today could go to 95%, reports Dr. Ignatiev. The Wake Shield Facility is an ongoing NASA project, and has flown on three Space Shuttle missions.





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