February 25, 2021



Space crystals
Northrop Grumman recently launch its Cygnus spacecraft into space, sending thousands of pounds of critical supplies and experiments to the International Space Station (ISS).

The launch, which took place from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, will deliver a diversity of experiments to the ISS National Laboratory.

In one experiment, Redwire’s sixth in-space manufacturing facility is headed to the ISS via Northrop’s spacecraft. Redwire’s technology, called the Industrial Crystallization Facility (ICF), is an in-space manufacturing unit designed to demonstrate microgravity-enhanced techniques for growing inorganic KDP (potassium dihydrogen phosphate) crystals in space. ICF resembles a single locker-sized module with interchangeable components.

KDP crystals are used in high-energy laser systems on Earth. KDP crystals are also used in electro-optic modulators, Q-switches, ultrasonic transducers, and frequency conversion for fusion research.

Characterized by high transmissions, KDP crystals are used to boost Nd:YAG lasers at room or elevated temperatures. Nd:YAG (neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet) is a crystal, which is used as a medium for solid-state lasers.

In operation, KDP crystals are prone to laser-induced damage, which limits the output of the laser. This damage is caused by impurities created during the crystal growth process, according to Redwire.

Redwire’s ICF will employ crystal growth techniques in microgravity. This in turn could minimize these gravity-induced defects, thereby boosting the yields.

Organic molecular crystal growth has been studied on the ISS for many years. ICF is focused on growing inorganic crystals for industrial applications. “ICF and the other technologies that we’re testing on the space station represent cutting-edge innovation that could impact how we utilize space and expand the economic landscape,” said Tom Campbell, president of Made In Space, a subsidiary of Redwire.

Last year, Made In Space sent the world’s first ceramic manufacturing facility to the ISS.

Edge computing in space
Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s in-space commercial edge computing system with AI capabilities is also headed to the ISS via Northrop’s spacecraft.

Astronauts aboard the ISS will conduct various experiments using HPE’s Spaceborne Computer-2 (SBC-2), such as medical imaging, DNA sequencing, remote sensing and others.

SBC-2 will offer twice as much compute speed with purpose-built edge computing capabilities as compared to its traditional systems. “The most important benefit to delivering reliable in-space computing with Spaceborne Computer-2 is making real-time insights a reality. Space explorers can now transform how they conduct research based on readily available data and improve decision-making,” said Mark Fernandez, a solution architect at HPE and principal investigator for Spaceborne Computer-2.

“Edge computing provides core capabilities for unique sites that have limited or no connectivity, giving them the power to process and analyze data locally and make critical decisions quickly. With HPE Edgeline, we deliver solutions that are purposely engineered for harsh environments. Here on Earth, that means efficiently processing data insights from a range of devices – from security surveillance cameras in airports and stadiums, to robotics and automation features in manufacturing plants,” said Shelly Anello, general manager for converged edge systems at HPE.

Mars metrology
NASA’s next-generation rover landed on Mars on Feb. 18 after traversing 293 million miles on a 203-day journey from Earth.

Source: NASA/JPL

The rover, called Perseverance, is equipped with cameras, instruments and sensors. Using these systems, the rover will enable several experiments, including the ability to image and study the elemental composition of the surface materials on Mars. Perseverance marks an ambitious step in the effort to collect Mars samples and return them to Earth.

About the size of a car, the 2,263-pound (1,026-kilogram) robotic system consists of Mastcam-Z, a pair of zoomable cameras on Perseverance’s remote sensing mast. This system creates high-resolution, color 3D panoramas of the Martian landscape.

Also located on the mast, the so-called SuperCam uses a pulsed laser to study the chemistry of rocks and sediment.

Then, located on a turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm, the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) and the Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals (SHERLOC) instruments will work together to collect data on Mars’ geology.

PIXL will use an X-ray beam and a suite of sensors to look into a rock’s elemental chemistry. SHERLOC’s ultraviolet laser and spectrometer, along with its Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering (WATSON) imager, will study rock surfaces, mapping out the presence of certain minerals and organic molecules.

“Perseverance is the most sophisticated robotic geologist ever made, but verifying that microscopic life once existed carries an enormous burden of proof,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “While we’ll learn a lot with the great instruments we have aboard the rover, it may very well require the far more capable laboratories and instruments back here on Earth to tell us whether our samples carry evidence that Mars once harbored life.”

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