Computer Optimization and Nano/Micro Fabrication of light-matter interaction Based Devices Used for Space Exploration

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Light-matter interactions drive the fundamental capabilities of almost all space exploration missions, from providing the energy necessary for its basic operation to obtaining measurements with a wide array of instruments that serve their scientific goals. This research explores the current state of the art devices that utilize such interactions and harness computer optimization and advanced fabrication methods to expand their capabilities. In this thesis, we focus on two major devices, Solar cells that are used to power more than 95% of all spacecraft and Starshades that are used to provide contrast for astronomical observations. Both utilize their unique architectures to interact with light to advance space exploration. I open by studying how an orbiting starshade can be used with large ground-based telescopes to observe planetary systems. We begin by mapping observable sky for an orbiting starshade working with ground-based telescopes. We continue by exploring how such a combination could work, from providing detailed images and spectra, mechanical architecture, and orbital management. All heavily support by optimization algorithms, from the starshade shape and dimensions to the observation sequence in which the mission takes place. I continue studying over three hundred and forty space missions to determine past and current capabilities, from mass and power to efficiency and specific power we then perform analysis and establish critical limitation in terms of power to weight ratio. We finalize by providing recommendations for the performance levels required to support future space missions. Lastly, we show that concurrent advances in the fabrication of nanostructured materials (especially semiconducting light absorbers) and computational methods to describe structure-dependent light-matter interactions have created a fertile opportunity space to create (in silico) optimized (i.e., high power /weight ratio) architectures. We find that structural changes at the Nano/Microscale increase absorption while minimizing the mass and thickness as well as reducing their minimal radius of curvature, which in turn leads to a decrease in the deploying mechanism mass. we also demonstrate its applicability in other fields from designing different instruments used for space exploration missions like Starshade based mission. We finish by introducing a new fabrication technique - continuous additive nanomanufacturing at a fluid interface (CANFI) and show the first steps taken to enable low-cost fabrication of such structures.

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178 pages


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3D printing; Light; nano fabrication; Solar Arrays; Space; Starshade


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Committee Chair

Hanrath, Tobias

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Committee Member

Shepherd, Robert F.
Fuchs, Gregory

Degree Discipline

Mechanical Engineering

Degree Name

Ph. D., Mechanical Engineering

Degree Level

Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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