MEMS To The Moon
November 24, 2010
Micralyne’s work is officially out of this world. This renowned pure play foundry has seen their customers’ MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical Systems) reach as far as the shadowed poles of the moon while part of NASA’s LCROSS (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) water detection mission.
The increasing ubiquity of MEMS components in such applications as sensors for automotive applications, motion sensors for smartphones and video game systems, is driven by the potential for MEMS to deliver smaller, more cost-effective and reliable devices than many conventional technologies. Micralyne has been successfully manufacturing these technically precise MEMS in a variety of industries and in doing so passed several automotive certifications, met Telcordia specifications, military specifications, and FDA specifications for appliances within the human body, making it one of the world’s leading MEMS foundries.
Recently, it was noteworthy that standard production parts for a commercial spectrometer, the Polychromator, which Micralyne played a role in fabricating – specifically in post-processing, assembly and test – were certified and used by NASA aboard the recent LCROSS mission. Micralyne has worked with Polychromix (now part of Thermo Fisher Scientific) for a decade on this MEMS component.
The Polychromator is an electrically programmable micro-mirror array which acts as a variable infrared diffraction grating, which served the infrared portion of the suite of spectrometers on the LCROSS mission. NASA chose the Polychromator technology due to its need for low power consumption and high reliability. The objective of LCROSS was to detect water on the moon in the permanently dark crater bottoms at the lunar poles. Future missions on the surface could potentially utilize this water in applications from life sustaining supplies on a base station, to fuel for exploration and or return missions, thus making it essential to evaluate its concentration and form.
The mission itself made headlines not only because of the advances that could be made in space exploration but also in the form of promises of an exciting visual display. This was to occur when the Centaur rocket upper stage was to deliberately impact the lunar surface to provide the energy to create a vapour plume to analyze. However, it was only those working for NASA who were able to witness the spectacular four minute event recorded from the LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter). While the collision failed to deliver the promised visual display to Earth-based observers, the on-board spectrometers, including the infrared ones that Micralyne helped create, performed with flying colours, in a very literal sense. The infrared signature showed a 5.6% concentration of water in the soil, in the form of ice and vapour, as well as signatures for methane and sulphur dioxide. It just goes to show that you had to be there – and we were.
To learn more about this mission refer to the following:
How Wet is the Moon – Science Magazine
Detection of Water in the LCROSS Ejecta Plume – Science Magazine
The Moon Is Wet! – ScienceNOW
Thermo Fisher Scientific (Formerly Polychromix)