Ballymena man's firm awarded NASA 'From Moon to Mars' project

  • Photo: (c) QUB

    NASA has awarded a project critical for its campaign to send humans back to the surface of the moon, to a tech company founded by Ballymena man, Sam Anderson. 

    The USA's national aeronautics administration has awarded IceMOS with a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) project to develop radiation-tolerant high-voltage MOSFET transistors.

    Improvements in these power semiconductor devices are vital to power supply applications required in long-term NASA space programmes such as 'Moon to Mars' which aims to send humans back to the surface of the moon – including the first woman – by 2024, and establish sustainable exploration by the end of the decade.

    “This project consists of developing an enabling technology to accelerate major advances in the efficiency of a spacecraft’s power system by making improvements in high voltage power transistor radiation hardness compatible with cost-effective high-volume manufacturing processes,” said Mr Anderson.

    “The reliability requirements of hostile deep space operating environments present a unique set of challenges that we look forward to addressing with our innovative device technology.”

    Moon landing inspired Sam to work in science

    Back in July 1969, when Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong made history by stepping onto the moon, Sam Anderson was one of many millions of children around the world who tuned into the famous broadcast.

    “Listeners back on Earth heard Armstrong say, ‘That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’ As a 12-year-old I remember watching this on a black and white TV at my parents’ home in Ballymena late at night.

    “I think this was an inspirational event that inspired many young people to follow a career in science, myself included.”

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    Sam received a Bachelor of Applied Science in Electronics from the University of Ulster, then went on to gain a Masters in Engineering/Physics/Applied Physics from Queen's University in 1983.

    After moving to the US, he earned a Masters of Technology in Semiconductor Device Physics from Arizona State University in 1990.

    His company, IceMOS was created in 2004 and has a manufacturing centre of excellence located in west Belfast, an advanced research innovation centre in Tempe, Arizona, and a design centre in Tokyo, Japan. 

    "IceMOS Belfast is critical to everything we do!" said Sam. "It is our manufacturing centre of excellence from which we ship products to 30 countries around the world."

    From Moon to Mars

    NASA is soon to launch a SLS (Space Launch System) and an Orion space craft together on two flight tests around the moon to check performance, life support, and communication capabilities.

    The first mission – known as Artemis I – is on track for later this year without astronauts; Artemis II will fly with crew in 2023.

    The following year, 2024, will see a return to the lunar surface, with Artemis III landing the first astronauts on the South Pole, a goal which also includes sending the first woman to the moon.

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    The USA is going back to the Moon for scientific discovery, economic benefits, and inspiration for a new a generation of explorers.

    Wearing modern spacesuits that will allow for greater flexibility and movement than those of their Apollo predecessors, astronauts will collect samples and conduct a range of science experiments over the course of nearly seven days. Using the lander, they will return to lunar orbit before ultimately heading home to Earth aboard Orion.

    That concept calls for an Artemis Base Camp that would include new rovers, power systems, habitats, and more on the surface for long-term exploration of the Moon. The camp will also become a ‘test-bed’ for preparing the mission ‘From Moon to Mars’ by the end of the decade.

    The SBIR is seen as the beginning of a major opportunity for IceMOS to enter into the Aerospace market on a history making programme.

    'Education is a lifelong event'

    Sam and his wife, Dr Fuyu Lin have supported a number of academic institutions internationally through increasing philanthropic work with their Lin-Anderson Foundation.

    In 2019, the foundation gifted funding to his former Queen's University, to support students there completing a Master of Science in the School of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, specifically in the Queen’s Advanced Microengineering Centre.

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    Sam is also working with the university to aid students' employability and to help Queen’s work towards strategic goals by fostering collaboration with other international universities that he is partnered with.

    "My advice to current students and recent graduates," suggested Sam. "Education is a lifelong event so keep learning and keep helping each other." 

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    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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