A clean take-off into space

Published: 10-Jul-2015

Components used in space missions have to be extremely clean. Fraunhofer IPA has special expertise in designing systems that clean sensitive components and can supply information about the quality of the cleaning. To do this, the Stuttgart-based institute employs a range of advanced devices along with some of the world’s most sophisticated cleanrooms

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It all started with a surprising request. The European Space Agency (ESA) wanted to know if Fraunhofer IPA was capable of sterilising diverse components for a mission to Mars. Udo Gommel, Head of the Electronics and Microsystem Technology business unit, did not see much chance of being given the opportunity to tackle this challenging task. That is because he was not the only person who had been asked. Nor did he have experience in the aerospace business.

‘Being a manufacturing specialist, I really didn’t think they’d be interested in me,’ he recalled. However, he did know a lot about cleaning delicate electronic components that are used in the semiconductor industry and in medical engineering, for example. He also had the advantage of working at a place where one of the world’s best cleanroom laboratories is located. And that is what finally tipped the balance: he got the job.

That was seven years ago. In the meantime, space travel has become a focal point of his business unit. At the moment, more than 20 projects are running on a range of topics. ‘Once you’ve gained a foothold in the industry, more and more people take an interest in you,’ said Dr Gommel. Whenever there is a particularly difficult challenge to be tackled, when commercial solutions do not work and research is called for, that is when the team from Stuttgart comes into play.

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