Australia may not yet build the rockets to take humans to the moon and beyond, but the nation will contribute many of the much less visible but vitally important enabling technologies.
Among those are the sensors for monitoring astronaut health during long space missions.
That will be a result of a collaboration between NASA and the Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF) announced last week.
The umbrella agreement will harness the micro and nanofabrication expertise of ANFF to help NASA to solve some technological challenges faced by the aerospace industry.
ANFF chief executive Dr Ian Griffiths said he was delighted ANFF had reached this agreement.
“I believe that this will allow us a framework to collaborate on a range of projects that will produce tangible, real world impacts that are felt for years to come. These projects will demonstrate the world-class capability of ANFF and the talents of our associated academics across many of our nodes,” he said.
Under the agreement, NASA and ANFF will work together to identify issues and develop methodologies to advance nanotechnology-based communications and sensing capabilities.
The first project will investigate microfluidic sensor platforms for monitoring astronaut exposure and health.
That work is being led by South Australia ANFF director, associate professor Craig Priest from the University of South Australia Future Industries Institute, and may end up supporting human exploration of the moon and Mars.
Priest said for those working and travelling in space, there was no doctor or regular health testing facilities.
“We know astronauts are operating in a challenging environment,” he said.
“You can imagine in a space environment where you’ve got zero gravity, radiation and other extreme conditions, the ability to know if things are going wrong quickly is very important. We are aiming to work with NASA to develop non-invasive health self-assessment and possibly wearable tools that will be able to analyse things like sweat and saliva and track health effects in real time.”
Space-bound devices must be engineered to meet incredibly high demands. They need to be lightweight and energy efficient and robust to function in extreme temperatures and intense radiation.
They will need to work perfectly for years.
This type of technology has plenty of uses on Earth, with changing health management and growing use of lower cost wearable health technologies.
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