Sensors and Spacecraft Components

NASA's challenge to detect ultra-weak signals from sources at astronomical distances make every photon or particle a precious commodity that must be fully analyzed to retrieve all of the information it carries. Nanostructured sensing elements, in which each absorbed quantum generates low-energy excitations that record and amplify the full range of information, provide an approach to achieve this goal. NASA will also develop field and inertial sensors with many orders of magnitude enhancement in the sensitivity by harnessing quantum effects of photons, electrons, and atoms. A gravity gradiometer based on interference of atom beams is currently under development by NASA with the potential space-based mapping of the interior of the Earth or other astronomical bodies. Miniaturization of entire spacecraft will entail reduction in the size and power required for all system functionalities, not just sensors. Low-power, integrable nano devices are needed for inertial sensing, power generation and management, telemetry and communication, navigation and control, propulsion, and in situ mobility, and so forth. Integrated nano-electro-mechanical systems (NEMS) will be the basis for future avionics control systems incorporating transducers, electromagnetic sources, active and passive electronic devices, electromagnetic radiators, electron emitters, and actuators.

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