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ESA in miniature
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ESA in miniature
by Staff Writers
Paris (ESA) Mar 27, 2023

This is a version of the ESA logo like no other: seen through a microscope it measures just over 17 thousandths of a millimetre across, about half the diameter of the average human skin cell.

The logo was carved out of a piece of nickel-based space-grade alloy Inconel using Xenon atoms shot from a plasma ion beam.

While the logo measures 17.43 micrometres (thousandths of a millimetre) in length it is just 700 nanometres (millionths of a millimetre) deep. Click here for an angled view.

"The logo was blasted out of a polished Inconel surface," explains ESA Young Graduate Trainee Felix Schmidt, serving in ESA's Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory.

"We created it as practice, in preparation for a project on modelling micromechanical testing. Achieving accurate cuts on a given material is tricky, with many parameters needing to be optimised to get the correct size and depth of the geometry, but this logo shows the kind of accuracy we can reach."

To get an idea of its actual size, see the logo beside a human hair in this microscopic view - created using stacks of visible light microscope images to achieve the depth of field to get both objects in focus at once.

Felix adds: "Next the plan is to cut out a pillar of metal, then crush it using a nano-indenter, having meanwhile created a high-fidelity 'digital twin' of the pillar to accurately model how it behaves as force is exerted on it."

ESA is already active at creating 'digital twins' of space systems at higher scales, explains engineer Michael Mallon, working on digital spacecraft design and verification, "but our aim here is to demonstrate a predictive capability right down to the meso-scale, the next level up from atoms."

Related Links
Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory at ESA
Space Technology News - Applications and Research

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