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Stardust was launched carrying two microchips approximately the size of a thumbnail. Two copies of each chip were installed on the spacecraft (for a total of four chips). Two of the microchips (#1 & #2) are inside the Sample Return Capsule, and will return back to Earth with the capsule in the year 2006. Due to public demand and interest a second set of microchip where installed on the spacecraft body and will remain in space forever.

Note that these microchips are not electronic parts like a computer chip, but are actually a silicon wafers. The names are placed onto the wafer chip through a technique called Electron Beam Lithography.The wafer is 4 inches square initially and comes with a layer of silicon oxide on its surface.. The wafer is coated with a thin photographic film of photo-resist PMMA (pexiglass). The names are stored on a VAX computer and converted into a format usable by the electron beam lithography tool. The data is read and fed into the electron beam tool which engraves the names into the PMMA surface of the wafer chip using a highly-focused electron beam. The names can be written multiple times to the wafer if we want to make multiple copies of the small microchip. The wafer then goes through a process similar to developing film, where the wafer is rinsed in a developer that removes exposed PMMA (or the area written on by the electron beam). The next step is to coat the wafer with a thin metal film (titanium & platinum). This is done by placing it in a vacuum chamber and heating a small amount of the metal, which evaporates and coats the wafer by condensing on it. The wafer chip is then placed in a solvent which dissolves away the remaining PPMA and any metal attached to it, leaving behind the letters of the names. Finally, the wafer is cut up into 1x1 centimeter-sized square chips.



Last updated November 26, 2003
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