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Semiconductor Manufacturing Techniques for New Space Missions

Modern consumer devices production is now been replicated by NASA astrophysicists and engineers to help adapt detectors used by earthbound supercolliders to understand the behavior of colliding galaxies and black holes.

Researchers are asserting that the new pixel-based silicon detectors technology is perfect to be implemented for next-gen gamma-ray observatories.

Through this new process, researchers believe new detectors would sense these photons much like a digital camera and use far less power than current space-based detectors.

Though their efficiency is high but current silicon pixel technology requires a lot of power which make it challenging for space.

Like the particle physics community, Caputo is experimenting with a manufacturing process called complementary metal-oxide semiconductor, or CMOS, which NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory finessed for spaceflight applications. The semiconductor industry uses this technique to make modern electronic devices. “This process allows us to not only collect energy from particles that enter the detector, but also to amplify their signals all in the same detector material. This makes these detectors less expensive and noisy,” Caputo said.

With the APRA award, Caputo and her team are designing new pixel detectors optimized for potential use in space. They have sent their first version of AstroPix to a semiconductor foundry—the same facilities that manufacture computer chips—for fabrication.

“The challenge is finding the best way to reduce the amount of power the pixel needs to use since instruments on the ground have access to all the power they want,” said Regina Caputo, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and a fellow with NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Technology Fellowship program. She is the principal investigator of Goddard’s detector-development effort called AstroPix.

Semiconductor Manufacturing

Key Advantages of the New Detector, AstroPix

AstroPix key advantage is when compared with detectors flying on the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. “Previous silicon strip-detecting technology went through a series of processes to convert charges to digital signals, while the new pixel-based technology can do all of them at once since the readout is integrated with each pixel, Caputo said. In this way, the pixel detector would reduce its power needs to function the best in space.

The team is testing the pixel detector in the astrophysics lab at Goddard using radioactive sources, such as cadmium, for the pixelated silicon to detect. The tests help determine whether the energy resolution of the pixel detector is the same or better than the silicon strip detectors. “These sources can partially reproduce the types of radiation found in space, although at a much lower dose,” Brewer said.

Future Missions With AstroPiX

Before being used and integrated into the future gamma-ray mission, AstroPiX team shall prove its effectiveness and reliability of these silicon pixel detectors. In fact, in addition to improved position sensitivity, energy resolution, and lower power consumption, the pixel detector technology would easily be the best choice for any particle-detecting mission.

The article has been taken from PHYS.ORG and has been edited under BISinfotech edit guidelines.


Niloy Banerjee

A generic movie-buff, passionate and professional with print journalism, serving editorial verticals on Technical and B2B segments, crude rover and writer on business happenings, spare time playing physical and digital forms of games; a love with philosophy is perennial as trying to archive pebbles from the ocean of literature. Lastly, a connoisseur in making and eating palatable cuisines.

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