Jun 17, 2015 | By Simon

Although many of us have come to rely on data in all of its forms for communication and content consumption - be it a website, emails, text messages, YouTube videos, Instagram, Twitter or any other internet-connected platform - few of us ever stop to think about how that data even got to our devices in the first place.

For private Swiss company Swissto12 SA, thinking about how data moves from one point to the next is their job.  

The company, which is based in Lausanne, Switzerland, is responsible for researching and developing many antennas used today thanks to innovative manufacturing techniques that combine signal transmission components with modern technologies.  More recently, the company has been actively developing light and inexpensive antennas that are aimed at - among other things - streamlining satellite communications; the company just signed a major contract with the European Space Agency to develop a metal-plated polymer antenna design.  

The decision to create a lightweight and inexpensive antenna for space travel makes complete sense: weight reduction is a critical strategy in every space launch in order to increase launch efficiency.   The antennas designed by Swissto12 are already ten times lighter and significantly less expensive than metal antennas that are currently being used by the organization.  

The lightweight and inexpensive antenna is also designed to take on a number of forms; while it looks like a small plastic disc with a series of holes, in actuality it contains a network of small channels that are the result of an extremely well-calculated design and production process that was optimized for production using additive manufacturing technology.  In order to achieve this level of precision, the team of design engineers at Swissto12 designed the the antennas so that they would be made up of polymers before being coated in metal through a patented process.  In total, the new designs weigh at least ten times less than existing antennas.    

Image credit: EPFL, Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne

"When we talk to customers about our products, it's almost as if we were talking science fiction at first. But when they see the antennas and the test results, they start to come around," said Swissto12 CEO Emile De Rijk.  The company is also collaborating with EPFL's Laboratory of Electromagnetics and Acoustics on the contract.

Between both the increase in data usage as well as the use of data in space - including the recent email of an STL file to the International Space Station for 3D printing - it’s not surprising that space organizations have been looking at ways of optimizing this often overlooked communications detail.  

While there are a variety of commercial uses for the new antennas, the primary goals are to both reduce the size and cost of the domes as well as increase the capabilities of data transfer for space missions.  



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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