Swiss radio frequency (RF) component supplier SWISSto12 has delivered a ‘large batch’ of 3D printed waveguide signal interconnects to aerospace manufacturer Thales Alenia Space, for use in the Eutelsat KONNECT Very High Throughput Satellite (VHTS) program.
SWISSto12 has been working with Thales Alenia Space on the project over the past year, which will contribute to a next-generation GEO satellite, due for launch in 2021. The firm used proprietary 3D printing and electroless plating to manufacture the waveguide components in order to achieve weight and cost savings while enhancing RF performance.
“This is the core difference between additively and conventionally manufactured products,” said Artem Kokhov, sales and marketing manager at SWISSto12. “Our patented electroless plating technology proves important for RF applications’ surface roughness and conductivity.
“The space sector is always interested in reducing the mass of components and to enhance performance, and SWISSto12’s technology is ready to answer this challenge.”
3D printing waveguide signal interconnects
Utilizing 3D printing granted SWISSto12 greater design flexibility, and enabled the firm to produce highly dense and integrated waveguide signal interconnect modules into single 3D printed monolithic units. By printing the waveguide modules in one component, part count was significantly reduced from tens or hundreds of parts, therefore optimizing weight and facilitating system integration.
Combining multiple waveguides in this way, along with their flanges, mechanical brackets, and thermal features, could open up a whole new avenue for system optimization through design.
“Traditionally manufactured waveguides cannot be packed as densely as those that are 3D printed, and this results in mass and cost savings,” continued Kokhov. “A significant amount of satellite signals will pass through 3D printed elements, and this is a big success because it will build trust and credibility for additively-manufactured components in the space industry.”
SWISSto12’s RF-systems benefit from an optimized signal interconnect approach that delivers exceptionally low signal loss, mechanical bracketing, and thermal management features, with a keen focus on system integration.
The Eutelsat KONNECT VHTS program
Last year, Thales Alenia Space began using 3D printing in a series production of its satellites known as the Spacebus NEO platform. The first run of these additively manufactured components has been integrated into a commercial satellite project for Eutelsat Communications.
The Eutelsat KONNECT was the first satellite to make use of the Spacebus NEO platform, and is designed to provide faster broadband connection to areas of Western Europe and Africa. Once completed, the KONNECT will be capable of handling payloads exceeding 1,400 kg, and over 16 kW of power.
In addition to SWISSto12’s 3D printed waveguide signal interconnects, Thales has used additive manufacturing to produce other elements of the satellite. Four custom-designed 3D printed reaction wheel brackets have been manufactured on a Xline 2000R 3D printer from GE Additive company, Concept Laser, providing a 30% overall weight reduction and 10% cost saving.
According to SWISSto12, with VHTS payloads growing in complexity to transport ever-increasing amounts of data throughput, 3D printing could constitute a future path to accommodating larger quotas of communication equipment onboard satellites.
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Featured image shows SWISSto12 has delivered a ‘large batch’ of 3D printed waveguide signal interconnects for use in the Eutelsat KONNECT VHTS program. Image via SWISSto12.