Scientists from the University of Rome and University of Bologna recently have designed and launched a space-ready, 3D printed CubeSat.
CubeSats are standardized, tiny satellites, often only 10 centimeters (3.9 inches) on each side and weighing less than 1.33 kilograms (just under 3 lbs). They are so small that they have room for only a few sensors, and burn up in the Earth's atmosphere after just a few months. Kits cost under $10,000, which is considered cheap for the space industry.
A fully assembled CubeSat satellite, complete with sensors and computer chips. The CubeSat's body was created using a 3-D printer. CREDIT: Jacopo Piattoni
Jacopo Piattoni of the University of Bologna and his team use 3D printing technology to design a prototype of CubeSat with ABS plastics, a material resilient to extreme temperatures, vibration, radiation and other severe environment. They hopes it could survive launch and low-Earth orbit.
The CubeSat's sensors and computer chips were not printed, and the team had to add a small, metal heat sink to disperse the electronic components' heat. They tested the chassis in near-space conditions and it worked pretty well.
Using 3D printing the team can now produce another copy each night. They can also test new designs or build support for other sensors or modules, just by clicking a few buttons on a computer.
Now the team is working on testing it as secondary cargo on a rocket heading to the space. They are working with QB50, which will place 50 CubeSats in orbit at once on a Russian Shtil-2.1 scheduled to launch in 2014.
Posted in 3D Printing Applications
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