Turnkey provider for additive manufacturing 3DCeram has assisted French Space Agency (CNES) spin-out Anywaves in designing a 3D printed ceramic antenna for small satellites.
Over the last 18 months, Anywaves has collaborated with 3DCeram’s 3D-AIM consultancy service to develop its GNSS L1/E1 Band antenna through a three-step process involving feasibility analysis, design to manufacturing discussions, and risk analysis. 3D-AIM is dedicated to helping aerospace companies to fabricate ceramic applications from scratch to part production, managing the design and production phases and later the technology transfer to the end user.
The new satellite antenna is now ready for serial production, with Anywaves currently deciding whether to utilize 3DCeram’s additive manufacturing services or bringing the technology in-house.
Designing the antenna
The two firms began by carrying out a risk analysis, which identified the technical and economical requirements of the antenna Anywaves wished to create in addition to assessing the chances of failure during the printing, cleaning, debinding, and sintering processes. 3DCeram carried out CAD analysis of several different part configurations and shapes, and produced a variety designs based on a range of simple and complex lattice structures.
The next stage of the 3D-AIM program sees the modification of CAD file design with input from the customer in order to bring together the results of the risk analysis with mechanical tolerance constraints and material quality control, in addition to other factors. CAD design proposals for the part were then produced which explored part orientation, part tolerances, and so on. The design also had to be optimized and corrected for the SLA printing process to be used by Anywaves.
The design to manufacturing stage also involved configuring the print accuracy of the antenna, alongside the print time, cost, and surface finish. Printing and firing tests of the antenna were then carried out in order to increase the design maturity for the 3D printing process.
Entering series production
The end result of the 3D-AIM process resulted in a sleek and compactly designed antenna for small satellites that exhibits excellent radiofrequency performance and radiation characteristics. According to 3DCeram, the part can withstand harsh environments without thermal protection due to the printing processes’ material selection and solderless feed system.
Now that the antenna has been developed and is ready to enter serial production, Anywaves is in the process of deciding the best way in which to do this, either through outsourcing production via 3DCeram’s adaptable 3D printing service, or by investing in a printer from 3DCeram to bring the production of parts in-house.
3D printing satellite components
3D printing is being increasingly turned to in order to provide new approaches to designing and manufacturing components for satellites and other aerospace applications.
In 2015, the European Space Agency (ESA) signed a large contract with Lausanne-based start-up SWISSto12 to use the firm’s 3D printed antennas in its satellites, which proved both significantly lighter and less expensive than traditional metal antennas. More recently, the ESA charged SENER Aerospacial and the Centre for Advanced Aerospace Technologies (CATEC) to develop a 3D printed metal antenna for its PROBA-3 space mission.
Elsewhere, German machine tool manufacturer TRUMPF demonstrated the potential applications of 3D printing for satellites and aircraft at the International Paris Air Show in 2019, while Franco-Italian aerospace manufacturer Thales Alenia Space announced it had started using 3D printing in the series production of its satellites in the same year.
Another recent collaboration for the development of 3D printed satellite parts involved Canadian manufacturing service bureau Burloak Technologies and communications company MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA), which will see the firms use additive manufacturing to optimize the design and manufacturability of a range of antenna technologies over the next five years.
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Featured image shows the GNSS L1/E1 Band antenna printed for Anywaves by 3DCeram. Image via Anywaves.