Italian 3D printer manufacturer ROBOZE has partnered with the University of Colorado Boulder to develop an ultra-durable CubeSat, that will soon be fired into orbit, and used to monitor the progress of cosmic space storms.
Working with the university’s engineers, ROBOZE has helped to optimize the mini satellite’s design, and 3D print highly-robust parts for its magnetic field sensors. Once ready, the CubeSat is set to be fired into orbit in 2022, where it will spend at least six months capturing data about the electromagnetic waves caused by lightning strikes on the Earth’s surface.
“Because we are so constrained by mass, 3D printing was the ideal solution for our CubeSat,” explained Vicki Knoer, one of the project’s researchers. “ROBOZE has allowed us to meet the requirements of the project, by guiding us in choosing the most suitable material, and in the optimization of parts to minimize mass.”
ROBOZE’s high-performance portfolio
While ROBOZE is known as a manufacturer of high-temperature FFF 3D printers, it also specializes in the development of ultra-rigid thermoplastics like carbon PA and carbon PEEK. Sometimes referred to as ‘superpolymers,’ these materials exhibit such high levels of strength, that they’re reportedly able to match those of pure alloys.
Recognizing the durability of ROBOZE’s technologies, clients are increasingly deploying them within more demanding end-use applications. In March 2020, for instance, the University of Delaware adopted ROBOZE’s ARGO 500 3D printer as a means of producing mission-critical components for the Combat Capabilities Development Center.
Similarly, Italian defence contractor Leonardo has previously utilized the firm’s ARGO system to 3D print carbon fiber-filled PEEK aerospace parts, with enhanced thermal and chemical stability. For its part, ROBOZE has also been active in testing its portfolio within ever-more difficult applications, and even launched a dedicated service for printing performance parts last year.
However, by working with engineers at Colorado’s department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences, ROBOZE has now taken this approach to a whole new level, by using its technologies to 3D print parts that are capable of withstanding a literal interstellar magnetic storm.
Building a storm-proof CubeSat
Due to the size and weight constraints of their Lightning, Atmosphere, Ionosphere and Radiation belt (LAIR) research, the Colorado team turned to ROBOZE for help in 2019. Since then, the company has helped the engineers to develop lighter components, that deliver optimal performance in exchange for minimal mass.
As part of the project, ROBOZE has also 3D printed end-use magnetic field sensor holders for the Colorado team’s satellite. While the parts aren’t mission-critical, they need to possess a high degree of temperature-resistance and strong mechanical integrity, hence the firm has deployed its own robust PEEK materials for the task.
Once the CubeSat is complete, it will undergo a set of pre-flight validation tests, before being launched into space during the first half of next year. According to ROBOZE CEO Alessio Lorusso, the project has effectively demonstrated the potential of 3D printing, when deployed within demanding aerospace applications.
“3D printing is rapidly replacing metal in a wide variety of extreme end-use applications including aerospace, mobility and energy,” said Lorusso. “It was an honor and a real privilege to collaborate with the LAIR group on this project. They are one of the pioneers in the use of additive technology in this field, and giving our support to the realization of their mission makes me extremely proud.”
Advances in polymeric CubeSats
Using 3D printing, it’s not just possible to produce robust satellite parts but entire polymeric casings, and a number of firms have done so in recent years.
Working with aerospace firms Alba Orbital and Mini-Cubes, CRP Technology has used its proprietary Windform XT 2.0 material to build various pocket satellites and deployers. For instance, just last year, the company developed 3D printed PocketQubes that proved capable of passing stringent NASA safety tests.
Similarly, Franco-Italian aerospace manufacturer Thales Alenia Space has introduced 3D printing into its series production of orbital satellites. Since the initiative began, the company has integrated several additive manufactured parts into commercial satellites for its long-term client Eutelsat Communications.
Elsewhere, the conductivity benefits of PEEK have also caught the attention of the European Space Agency (ESA), which has experimented heavily with its orbital applications. As part of a project with Zortrax last October, the agency developed a set of blended PEEK prototype parts that proved capable of wirelessly conducting data and electricity.
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Featured image shows ROBOZE’s 3D printed magnetic field sensor holders. Photo via ROBOZE.