Printable spacecraft may flutter down on alien worlds

April 27, 2012

This artist's conception illustrates Kepler-22b, a planet known to comfortably circle in the habitable zone of a sun-like star (credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)

The onslaught of ultra-tiny technology is giving rise to the idea of “printable spacecraft” consisting of electronic circuits, power generation, sensing, fluid handling, propulsion, telecommunications and mobility subsystems — all integrated onto a single substrate, Leonard David at Innovation News Daily reports.

The project, if successful, could allow scientists to one day pepper other worlds with atmospheric “flutterflyers” as well as “flutterlanders” — devices the size of postage stamps or confetti that reach a surface imbued with sensor smarts.

Research on the notion of printable spacecraft is being scoped out under the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program — one of many novel space initiatives detailed late last month at a NIAC symposium in Pasadena, Calif.

“Flat-sheet spacecraft” with printed chemical sensors can be deployed high above a target world and flutter to the surface like a leaf, eliminating the need for large and complex landing systems. The spacecraft would see a low-G impact at touchdown.

Balloons sent to drift in far-off planetary atmospheres could sport a veneer of printable electronics. Similarly, solar sails could carry printed spacecraft subsystems emblazoned across their large, outstretched sails.

NIAC announced Wednesday April 25 that it is seeking proposals to continue cutting-edge studies for which it has supported the first phase. — Ed.