Researchers Investigate Applicability of Using 3D Printing for Mass Production of Satellites
As the world works to find faster, more cost-effective ways to get to space, it’s necessary to test out innovative, modern technologies, such as 3D printing, rather than stick to the more conventional but expensive methods. Most current 3D printed thermoplastic satellites are developed as part of academic projects that have a low budget, such as the smallTomsk-TPU-120
, and it’s very important to achieve fast, flexible, and automated serial production of reliable satellites for less money.
This is the subject of a paper, titled “Material Characterization of Additively Manufactured PA12 and Design of Multifunctional Satellite Structures,” that was written by a collaborative group of researchers from the the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (IPA), and the University of Stuttgart Institute of Space Systems (IRS).
The researchers worked to demonstrate the potential of their multifunctional, inexpensive, 3D printed satellite, first by testing how usable PA 12 – an easily processed thermoplastic material – is for mass-produced aerospace applications like satellites, and then by designing and testing a multifunctional demonstrator, which is basically a “sandwich with a 3D-printed honeycomb core.”
In order to test out both FDM and SLS 3D printing, the team used Stratasys’ carbon fiber-reinforced polymer Nylon 12CF and PA 2200 from EOS for their research, and performed mechanical, outgassing, and thermal vacuum tests on specimens produced in three different orientations in order to measure the Young’s Modulus and tensile strength. In regards to the thermal vacuum cycling test, the mechanical properties of the 3D printed specimens were slightly improved, though elongation at break decreased.
The team concluded that the PA materials do show good potential for inexpensive space applications, though an elaborate test program will be necessary for a true qualification process.
A technology demonstrator, which includes 3D printed cable ducts that integrate coaxial cables and cable bundles, was used to verify both the functionality and feasibility of the 3D printed satellites’ function-integration for electronic, propulsion, and thermal management components, and the researchers determined that, at least in this project, an integration of propulsion components was not feasible.
The researchers produced and submitted a test component, complete with a gyroscope sensor, connector, ultrasonic embedded wire, and other planned functions, to vibration testing. The component was made with a PETG honeycomb core, in order to “ensure that results on the functionality of the concept are available before the optimization of the printing process for the PEI honeycomb core.”
After the vibration test, the team detected no visible damage or change to natural frequency, and could verify the electronic system’s total functionality.
The researchers determined that several additional steps, such as a comprehensive cost analysis, are required in order to present a “holistic evaluation of the presented concept”
Co-authors of the paper are Simon Hümbert, Lukas Gleixner, Emanuel Arce, Patrick Springer, Michael Lengowski, and Isil Sakraker Özmen.
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December 6, 2018 at 12:00AM