Satellite to Use Additive-Manufactured Components Directly Exposed to Space

Support structures are produced through FDM in plastic material as strong as aluminum. Internal complexity is part of the reason for producing the parts through 3D printing.


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Additive manufacturing supplier RedEye has produced what the company believes will be the first 3D printed functional component to be directly exposed to the environment (or lack thereof) of space. The company is working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to manufacture 30 antenna array supports for the FORMOSAT-7 Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate (COSMIC-2) mission, which is scheduled to begin launching satellites into orbit in late 2016.

RedEye will make 30 of the antenna array supports. Each support includes 12 cone-like structures that are all produced in a single additive build covering an area of approximately 22 by 16 inches, as shown in the photo. The parts will be produced through fused deposition modeling (FDM), and made from ULTEM 9085, a thermoplastic with strength similar to aluminum at less weight than this metal, combined with radio frequency and temperature-resistance properties suited to the satellite application.

According to RedEye, manufacturing these arrays would be far more difficult if a process other than additive manufacturing had been used. The array’s components include precise internal features. This internal complexity can be grown into the part within the 3D printing build, rather than pieced together through the assembly of a much larger number of components. Read RedEye’s report on this project.