NASA Investigates Femtosecond Laser Machining For Spaceflight Applications

Researchers have demonstrated that a femtosecond laser can effectively weld glass to copper, glass to glass, and drill hair-sized pinholes in various materials for spaceflight applications.

The research team is branching out into the more exotic glass, such as sapphire and Zerodur, and metals, including titanium, Invar, Kovar, and aluminum—commonly used in spaceflight instruments. Their goal is to weld larger pieces of these materials and demonstrate that femtosecond laser technology can be used to adhere windows to laser housings and optics to metal mounts, among other things.

The laser energy vaporizes the targeted material rather than melting it without heating the surrounding matter. As a result, technicians can precisely target the laser and bond dissimilar materials that would otherwise be impossible to bond without using epoxies.

Another significant application is micromachining. We can machine microscopic features because we can remove small amounts of material without damaging the surrounding matter.

The team has already demonstrated drilled, hair-sized pinholes in metals and etching microscopic channels or waveguides through which light could travel in photonic integrated circuits and laser transmitters. The same waveguides could allow liquids to flow through microfluidic devices and chips used in chemical analyses and instrument cooling.

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