From Silicon Valley’s NASA Ames Research Center comes word that the first nanotechnology-based electronic device ,dubbed Nano ChemSensor Unit, designed to monitor gases in a spaceship, performed well on board the U.S. Naval Academy’s MidSTAR-1 satellite. The detector’s technology platform, based on MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical System), is designed to “mitigate biomedical risks, improve closed loop life support systems and play an important role in miniature, light weight multi-use sensors.”
Here’s what NASA tells us about the Nano ChemSensor Unit:
The goal of the Nano ChemSensor Unit (NCSU) is to demonstrate and validate the use of nanosensors in space flight for trace chemical detection. Nano sensors hold the promise of making MEMS-scale sensor suites for many Space Exploration missions. This experimental instrument will determine if nano technology can tolerate the micro-gravity, thermal, and cosmic radiation environment of outer space. Chemical sensors using CNT and other nanostructures have been developed for gases such as ammonia, NOx, CO2, etc, hydrocarbons, and VOCs at both ARC and GRC (on-going projects). Physical sensors and actuators using the nanostructured materials have also been developed such as flow sensors, force sensors, temperature sensors, vision sensors, acoustic sensors, and electromechanical actuators. These sensors have shown advantages of being light and compact, using lower power (mW- mW), higher sensitivity (ppb to ppt) and robustness. Using MEMS technology, these sensors can be integrated on a silicon wafer as a small package (< 2kg) for smart detection. The verification methodology applied by the NCSU experiment is the use of pressurized 30ppm NO2 in N2 gas which is periodically released to a sensor chamber that holds 32 sensing elements. A predictable change in electrical conductance of the nano-sensing elements will be measured by the on-board electronics, then telemetry is sent back to Earth.