Nanotechnology features two primary approaches, which are “bottom up” where materials or devices are self-assembled from molecular components, and “top down” where nanoscale objects are constructed by micro-scale and macro-scale devices.
With the potential inherent in nanotechnology, it’s easy to see why nanoengineering and nanotechnology research are booming, and a particular focus is on exploring space: how to get there, how to protect space travellers, and where they will live when they arrive on distant planets.
Many of the nanotechnology objectives of NASA aim at a long-term time horizon, and are more or less visionary at present.
One main goal is a significant increase in spacecraft capabilities with simultaneous mass reduction and miniaturization, which can not be achieved with conventional technologies.
A new era of robotic exploration of the solar system is to be proposed by application of nanotechnology, among other technologies, through the development of small economical spacecrafts with high autonomy and improved capabilities.
Furthermore, nanotechnological diagnostics and therapy procedures will improve life support systems, and an autonomous medical supply for astronauts which will pave the way for long-term and more complex manned space missions.
Nanotechnology for Space Exploration
Space exploration is a prime candidate to take advantage of nanotechnology.
It’s expensive and risky, and in many ways currently, extremely inefficient.
These expenses, risks and inefficiencies are what makes nanotechnology so appealing, because the benefits and capabilities that nanotech promises could solve a lot of these problems.
Materials engineered using nanotechnology can satisfy many requirements.
Carbon nanotube-based materials in particular are a nanotechnological solution, able to be made into strong, lightweight and extremely thin sheets that could replace the polymer and aluminum solar sail materials currently used for sail prototypes.
Advanced nanomaterials could also be designed to have specific properties, such as being highly reflective.
There’s also the goal of developing future nanotechnology and nanomaterials that will have self-repairing properties.
In the context of solar sails, this could be invaluable; for example, if the nanomaterial could recognize and repair damage sustained during deployment and travel, such as tears during the unfolding process, or “healing” from micrometeorite impacts. This could drastically improve the success and longevity of these missions, enabling solar sail-propelled spacecraft to travel faster and farther.
Written by-Nikita Dutta