Space Applications of MEMS, 15-9229

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Principal Investigators
David J. McComas
Frederic Allegrini
Gregory P. Miller
Joseph N. Mitchell
Susan E. Pope
Philip W. Valek

Inclusive Dates: 11/27/00 - 09/23/03

Background - This Presidential Discretion IR&D project involved the development of a MEMS (MicroElectroMechanical Systems) capability for space applications within the Institute. The ultimate aim of this effort was to be able to rapidly incorporate MEMS into future space instrumentation proposed and developed by SwRI. With the entire field of space science constantly seeking smaller, lighter, and more robust instruments, sensors, and support systems, there are certain to be many successful MEMS products flown in space over the next few decades. Through this internal research initiative, we have undertaken our first step to develop MEMS capabilities at SwRI for space flight instrumentation. These capabilities include the design, testing, and implementation of a broad range of MEMS devices such as neutral particle velocity selector arrays, variable aperture arrays, energy analyzer arrays, and variable MEMS mass spectrometer and optical spectrometer image slits.

Approach - The goal of this project was to rapidly incorporate MEMS into future space instrumentation. This objective was met by developing 1) an in-house capability to design original MEMS devices for space applications, 2) a relationship with a reliable and affordable out-of-house fabrication facility, and 3) in-house capabilities to handle, test, evaluate, and package MEMS in space flight appropriate configurations.

Accomplishments - As a result of the work performed under this IR&D project, we have been awarded a NASA contract to develop "A MicroElectrical Mechanical Systems (MEMS) Velocity Filter for Low Energy Energetic Neutral Atom (ENA) Instruments." A vacuum probe station fitted with four micro-manipulated probes, imaging system capable of 0.5 micron resolution, and two high voltage arbitrary waveform generators for driving the MEMS devices, has been constructed and used in the testing of MEMS devices at pressures ranging from atmospheric pressure to high vacuum (shown below). We have designed and fabricated a number of MEMS devices that are of interest for future missions. The work performed in this IR&D project has been largely described in a recent Review of Scientific Instruments paper [McComas et al., 2003] and has garnered a highly prestigious Aviation Week and Space Technology Technology Innovation Award for 2004.

Schematic View of the SwRI® Vacuum Microprobe Station.

A Scanning Electron Microscope Photograph of an SwRI Logo, Built with the Same Fabrication Techniques Used to Build MEMS Devices.

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