Oct 30, 2015 | By Benedict

Innovative space systems company Thales Alenia Space, French additive manufacturing company Poly-Shape, and software publisher AltairEuropean have joined forces to run a contest called "Make it Light. The competition challenges entrants to design and produce an ultra-light structure to be made into a 3D printed prototype and used in a Thales Alenia Space telescope. Open until March 31, 2016, the contest is aimed at engineering, architecture and design students.

Sending objects of any kind into space is a costly business. To send 1kg into space costs around €15,000, which means that packing myself into a suitcase and letting Thales send me into orbit would cost the company just shy of €1m. The high cost of fuel and complex technology means that minimising excess weight is an extremely important aspect to consider when developing space technologies.

This is why the three companies launched the Make it Light contest: to encourage participants to design and model an ultra-light structure for a new space telescope to be used by Thales. The competition is not merely an exercise in encouraging technical creativity: the winning design will be made into a 3D printed prototype, via powder bed additive manufacturing. It will then be integrated into upcoming Thales projects.

3D printing is one of the most effective means of creating lightweight yet strong structures. Whilst components made using moulds end up with consistent densities, 3D printed components can contain complex interior anatomies with some areas more densely filled than others and with different structural shaping, depending on where more or less support is required. Complex geometries such as lattice structures and thin walls can be lighter than massy structures made by machining or foundry. A few weeks ago, aerospace giant Boeing released a video detailing the potential uses of its own 3D printed microlattice, which the company claims is the world’s lightest metal.

Additively manufactured materials like Boeing’s microlattice are exactly the kind of materials suited to the needs of space systems companies like Thales. By using these strong yet lightweight materials in their telescopes and other devices, Thales are able to cut down on the total mass of their products and save huge amounts of money.

The winners of Make it Light will be rewarded by all three organising firms. Rewards include exhibition of the designed part, guided tours, internships or probationary period for a potential position, software licenses, and a tablet. The full terms and conditions of the competition can be found here.

Thales Alenia Space has designed, integrated, tested, operated and delivered innovative space systems for over 40 years. It employs around 7,500 people in 8 different countries.



Posted in 3D Printing Events



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