Tech Tuesday: NOMAD Project

This week's Tech Tuesday shows us how lasers and robotics can help build structures in outer space.
Published: Sep. 12, 2023 at 4:17 PM EDT
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - Happy Tech Tuesday. I’m Morón with UF Innovate. And did you know that manufacturing can take place in space? Joining me to talk about just that is with the University of Florida. Dr. Miller, thank you so much for joining us today.

Thanks. Thanks for having me.

So what do you do at UF?

I am an assistant professor at the University of Florida in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

And what current research project are you working on?

Right now, I’m really excited about a recently awarded contract from DARPA called NOMAD. And in NOMAD, we are looking at manufacturing sheet metal in space using lasers.

What sets the NOMAD project from others projects?

The NOMAD project’s really exciting because we’re trying to build structures that could never be built in space before because they’re just too big to fit inside a rocket. What we’re doing is we’re actually trying to use lasers to bend sheet metal. And we’re using the heat from the laser to bend sheet metal without touching it. So if you combine that with say, some robotics to move the sheet metal where it needs to go, you can completely build a massive structure without needing astronauts on site to do all the dangerous work. You can just have the robots do it for you.

And what’s the goal of this project?

The goal of this project is to actually build very large precision structures. So something like 100 meter solar array or an RF antenna that could rival the James Webb Space Telescope.

How are you using laser and microscope for your research finding?

We’re really excited about both the laser and the electron microscopes that we use. The laser itself is surprisingly low in power, so you can get away with a very safe laser and still bend lots of sheet metal. The electron microscope is even more exciting. I love electron microscopes because you can use them to see things that are too small to actually see with light, so they are smaller than the actual wavelength of light. And you can see it. There’s a whole other world at that length scale.

Well, Dr. Miller, it’s been such a pleasure hearing about the NOMAD project.

Thank you so much. It’s been fun.

And that’s another great Tech Tuesday. We’ll see you next week.

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