Nanotechnology and nanorobotics for space applications
Nanotechnology is the engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale. It
deals with the study of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale.
Nanotechnology is very diverse, ranging from extensions of conventional device physics
to completely new approaches, from biological activities on earth to space exploration.
Nanotechnology has become a major field of research throughout the world and has
become a major challenge to many researchers. Nanorobotics is one major field of
Nanotechnology due to its wide range of applications in various fields of research.
Nanotechnology can best be defined as a description of activities at the level of atoms
and molecules that have applications in the real world.
Fig.1 Example of a nanorobot
A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, that is, about 1/80,000 of the diameter of a human
hair, or 10 times the diameter of a hydrogen atom. The size-related challenge is the
ability to measure, manipulate, and assemble matter with features on the scale of 1-
100nm. In order to achieve cost-effectiveness in nanotechnology it will be necessary to
automate molecular manufacturing. The engineering of molecular products needs to be
carried out by robotic devices, which have been termed nanorobots. A nanorobot is
essentially a controllable machine at the nano meter or molecular scale that is composed
of nano-scale components. The field of nanorobotics studies the design, manufacturing,
programming and control of the nano-scale robots.The field of Nanorobotics studies the
design, manufacturing, programming and control of Nano–Scale robots. A Nanorobot is
essentially a controllable machine at the nanometer or molecular scale that is composed
of nano-scale components. Rather it is a smart structure capable of actuation, sensing,
signaling, information processing, intelligence, and swarm behavior at Nano scale.
Nanorobots would constitute any passive or active structure (nano scale) capable of
actuation, sensing, signaling, information processing, intelligence, swarm behavior at
nano scale. These functionalities could be illustrated individually or in combinations by a
nano robot (swarm intelligence and co-operative behavior). So, there could be a whole
genre of actuation and sensing or information processing nano robots having ability to
interact and influence matter at the nano scale
Fig.2 nano robot
2. Applications of Nanorobots
Nanorobots find their areas applications in various fields. They can be used widely in
the field of Medicine and Space technology. They can be used in Heart surgeries,
Cancer treatment, Dentistry, etc. In military they can be used as an improved body armor
that is capable of self-repair if damaged. Nanorobots will be used in the near future to
rapidly injured people and damaged equipment on the Battlefield and as eavesdropping
devices that are practically undetectable. The other wider area of application for
Nanorobots is in Space technology, which is the main subject of this paper.
3. Characteristic Abilities of Nanorobots
Since Nanorobots are capable of actuation, sensing, signaling, information processing,
intelligence, some of the characteristic abilities that a Nanorobot should possess are:
1) Swarm Intelligence – Decentralization and distributive intelligence.
2) Cooperative behavior – Emergent and evolutionary behavior.
3) Self assembly and replication – assemblage at nano scale and nano maintenance.
4) Nano information processing and programmability – for programming and controlling
5) Nano to Macro world interface architecture – an architecture enabling instant access
to the Nanorobots and its control and maintenance.
Fig.3 A nono transmitter with camera and antenna
4. Advantages of Nanorobots
The major advantage of Nanorobots is thought to be their durability. In theory, they
can remain operational for years, decades or centuries. Nanoscale systems can also
operate much faster than their larger counterparts because displacements are smaller. This
allows mechanical and electrical events to occur in less time at a given speed. The self-
replication feature of Nanorobots is another major advantage because of which
Nanorobots find applications in various fields. Suppose in a system, a particular part is
not functioning properly or it failed, then automatic detection and rectification of problem
is required where self-replication comes to rescue. In this way the system works
satisfactorily even if a problem occurs in some part of a system. The other major
advantage is due to the small size of Nanorobots, they are very easy to use in space
applications and can be easily propelled and can reach required orbits easily and in less
time. These advantages make Nanorobots highly efficient systems and thus find wide
5. Design of Nanorobots
Designing Nanorobotic systems deal with vast variety of sciences, from quantum
molecular dynamics, to kinematic analysis. The rules applicable to Nanorobotics depend
upon the type of nano material being used in the design of such systems. Nanorobots can
be of two types: Organic and Inorganic Nanorobots.
5.1. Organic Nanorobots
Organic Nanorobots are the work on ATP and DNA based molecular machines, also
known as bionanorobots. In this case, the idea is the development of ribonucleic acid and
adenosine triphosphate devices, and even the use of modified microorganisms to achieve
some kind of biomolecular computation, sensing and actuation for Nanorobots.
Fig.4 Bio nanorobotics – a truly multidisciplinary field
5.2. Inorganic Nanorobots
Inorganic Nanorobots manufacturing is based on tailored Nanoelectronics. In
comparison with bionanorobots, it could achieve a considerably higher complexity of
nano scale components. Research is going on in this area to build inorganic Nanorobots
using diamondoid rigid materials.
Fig.5 Example of an inorganic robot
Some of the researchers of Center for Automation of Nanobiotech proposed a new
approach for Nanorobot manufacturing, the Nanobhis (Nano build Hardware Integrated
System), a quite effective and feasible methodology to build Nanorobots. Nanobhis is a
feasible way of manufacturing Nano devices, which may result in direct impact to
achieve Nanorobots. Nanobhis combines traditional and new concepts for manufacturing
methodologies to accomplish functional hardware for Nanorobots. 3D computational
simulations with integrated embedded Nano devices have been used as a practical way to
build Nanorobots. For high precision and a commercial way of producing
Nanoelectronics IC design using deep ultraviolet lithography has been used.
6. Nanotechnology in Space
Advancements in nanomaterials make lightweight solar sails and a cable for the space
elevator possible. By significantly reducing the amount of rocket fuel required, these
advances could lower the cost of reaching orbit and traveling in space. Radiation
shielding is the area where Nanotechnology makes a major contribution to human space
flight. NASA says that the risks of exposure to space radiation are the most significant
factor limiting humans’ ability to participate in long duration space missions. Space
radiation is qualitatively different from the radiations that humans encounter on the
earth’s surface. Once the astronauts leave the protective earth’s protective magnetic field
and atmosphere, they become exposed to ionizing radiation in the form of charged atomic
particles traveling at close to the speed of light. Highly charged, high – energetic HZA
particles pose risk to humans in space. A long-term exposure to this radiation may lead to
DNA damage and cancer. To protect their human cargo, spacecrafts will need special
shields incorporating materials consisting of lighter elements such as hydrogen, Boron
and Lithium. However, extra shielding comes at a significant price in the form of extra
weight, more fuel and increased flight costs.
Materials made from Carbon Nanotubes can be employed to reduce the weight of
spaceships or in increasing the structural strength. The Carbon Nanotubes may also be
used to make the cable needed for the space elevator, a system that could reduce the cost
of sending material into orbit.
6.1.1. Boron Nanotubes
Boron Nanotubes have many of the excellent properties of the well-known Carbon
Nanotubes because of the same structure. Compared to Carbon Nanotubes, Boron
Nanotubes have some better properties such as high chemical stability and high resistance
to oxidation at high temperatures. Scientists have found that the isotropically enriched
Boron Nitride Nanotubes have excellent radiation shielding property thus opening new
doors in the areas of space science. The isotrope boron-10 is an excellent neutron
absorber with a very high neutron-capture cross section. Consequently it’s widely used as
the inner shielding layer inside the nuclear reactors.
6.2. Propulsion Technology
Most of today’s rocket engines rely on chemical propulsion. Researchers and rocket
scientists are working on Electric Propulsion (EP) systems that include Field Emission
Electric Propulsion (FEEP), colloid thrusters and other versions of Field Emission
Thrusters (FETs). EP systems reduce the required propellant mass compared to
conventional chemical rockets, allowing to increase the payload capacity or reduce the
launch mass. A new EP system proposes to use electrostatically charged and accelerated
nanoparticles as propellants. Millions of micron-sized nanoparticles would fit on one
square centimeter, allowing the fabrication of highly scalable thruster arrays. Field
Emission Thrusters are not suitable for launching spacecrafts into orbits. Their intended
purpose is to provide altitude control and acceleration. Orbiting spacecrafts are subjected
to a variety of forces while circling an object in space like solar pressure, magnetic
streams etc. All these forces must be compensated in order to maintain the desired orbit.
The very low and highly controllable thrust levels provided by these Electric Propulsion
systems enable a new category of mission which otherwise would not be possible.
7. Nanorobots for Space Technology
Swarms are nanorobots that act in unison like bees. They theoretically will act like a
flexible cloth like material and being composed of what is called Bucky tubes, this cloth
will be as strong as a diamond. If a Nano computer is added to this nano machine, a smart
cloth is formed. This smart cloth could be used to keep astronauts from bouncing around
inside their spacecraft while they sleep, a problem that arises when the auto pilot
computer fires the course correction rockets. The cloth like material will be able to offset
the sudden movements and slowly move the astronaut back into position.
Fig.6 Example of an swarms
7.2. Space Colonization
Nanorobots can be used in carrying out construction projects in hostile environments.
For example with just a handful of self replicating robots, utilizing local material, and
local energy it is conceivable that space habitats can be completely constructed by remote
control so that the inhabitants need only show up with their suitcases. Colonization of
space can be done and an engineer or group of engineers could check up on the
construction of the habitats via telepresents utilizing cameras ad sensors created on the
surface of the mars by the nano bots all form the comfortable confines of the earth. Venus
could be explored with Nano robots too.
The immediate challenge in Nanotechnology is that we need to study more about the
properties of materials at nanoscale. Since the elements behave differently at nanoscale
than when they are in bulk, there’s a concern that some nanoparticles could be toxic. The
design of nanoscale components is very complex. The major challenge in
Nanotechnology is up scaling from laboratory work to industrial scale manufacturing.
9. Future Scope
The potential of Nanotechnology is huge and can lead to miniaturization in wider areas
like space systems, medical diagnostic equipments and drug delivery systems. A high-
end research is going on in the area of Nanotechnology and Nanorobotics especially in
the fields of medicine and space sciences. Nanotechnology in conjunction with the
available microelectronic techniques offers new possibilities of system integration. Clear
example of this kind is the integrated optics and integrated fluidics. Nanotechnology also
offers new technologies for antennas thus opening new doors for the field of
Communications. Research is going on in the field of space science for deploying a
network of sensors to search large areas of planets such as Mars for traces of water or
This subject can create a new revolution in the present world and can change the future
of this world. But at the same time this subject can destroy the whole world and create
threat to the human life. It is in the hands of the future engineers, researchers and the
scientists to use it in a creative manner rather than in destructive manner. Research
should be encouraged in the field of Nanotechnology, which can create many miracles in
the current science and technology. The below table shows top 10 countries based on
emerging technology exploitation factor:
Table 1 – Top 10 countries based on Nanotech Impact
The above table shows that India is at the bottom in the rankings. Hence the future
engineers and researchers of India should be encouraged to do research in this area.
Country Nanotech Impact Factor
United States 100
South Korea 25
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 Mintmire, J.W. amd C.T. White. “Carbon Nanotubes: Preparation and properties.”
 Significance of Nanotechnology for Future wireless devices and communications.