As you may know, space missions are not equipped with conventional electronics, the kind we can typically buy from stores here on Earth, since the devices would not withstand the radiation and rigors of space. Devices need to be specially designed for the functions they are going to perform and be shielded from so that they don't succumb to radiation, which, in addition to being costly, slows down electronics creation and results in the emergence of technologies that aren't necessarily cutting edge.
However, a team of NASA scientists has been conducting tests on nanoscale vacuum transistors that may help in the emergence of more technologically advanced, effective and stable electronic devices for participating in space missions – and of course able to survive the harsh conditions. from space.
A few decades ago, the electronics industry came to work with vacuum tubes in device development, but this technology was eventually replaced by semiconductor transistors, and today we rarely see the tubes being used. However, when it comes to the development of space-based devices, tubes have several advantages over transistors, such as having greater stability in extreme environments, allowing electronics to operate faster and better noise protection.
Then the NASA team began working with nanoscale vacuum channel transistors that can be made from silicon carbide wafers – or semiconductor wafers – using techniques currently in use in the electronics industry. More specifically, the team employed a process similar to that used for assembling so-called MOSFETs, or metal oxide semiconductor field effect transistors. But with one difference: Instead of using a semiconductor channel between the collector and emitter, as with MOSFETs, scientists used an empty channel.
Also, another thing the team did was that instead of positioning the transistors horizontally, as in previous tests, the researchers used the silicon-gate vacuum nanotransistors vertically and thereby got the electrons move faster than in semiconductors, since, as the channel was empty, the dispersion that normally occurs in the semiconductor network has been eliminated.
The result is that both the operating speed and the frequency of devices equipped with this system increase. And this advance is significant, since the production of this type of nanotransistor could become popular and give rise to viable alternatives for the development of more efficient components for electronic devices.
In the case of nanotransistors tested by NASA researchers, they were made from 150mm silicon carbide wafers and, they found, the system is capable of significantly longer-term stability and radiation resistance, with advantages. obvious for electronics designed for space missions or that will be subjected to extreme conditions.