Feb 5, 2016 | By Benedict

Stratasys Advanced Materials has developed ESD PEKK, an ESD-safe thermoplastic designed for spacecraft equipment. Parts made from the resistant material can be used straight from the 3D printer, eliminating the need for costly post-processing steps.

It’s no secret that electrical equipment has a tendency to malfunction—even more so when it’s being hurled around outer space. Within the space of just one hour, temperatures in space can fluctuate between -150°C and +150°C. There is no air flow, and alarming electrostatic charges can build up without warning. An electrostatic discharge (ESD) can easily destroy the sensitive electronic equipment in a satellite, and with nobody around to repair the damage, broken satellites tend to remain broken.

To minimize the threat posed by unsteady temperatures and electrostatic discharge, spacecraft equipment must be perfectly designed, using the most appropriate materials at a manufacturer’s disposal. But manufacturers of spacecraft equipment have further concerns beside these important protective requirements. Other important factors, such as a need to reduce weight and sharpen certain design features of components, have prompted companies to build components with the help of 3D printing technology.

This move into additive manufacturing territory, beneficial in terms of weight reduction and part complexity, brings up a new set of questions: Which 3D printing materials should be used for equipment like satellites? What post-processing steps needs to be taken for 3D printed components? Can 3D printed parts withstand the unstable conditions of space as well as their traditionally made counterparts?

Stratasys Advanced Materials, materials arm of 3D printing giant Stratasys, has been asked these questions by many customers. To deliver the perfect space-ready 3D printing material, able to protect electronic components from ESD and the wild conditions of outer space, the company worked with spacecraft and launch vehicle companies to create ESD PEKK (dissipative polyetherketoneketone), a thermoplastic with several unique and advantageous properties.

Avionics box made from ESD PEKK

“ESD PEKK’s material properties combine the unique advantage of ABS-ESD7’s electrostatic dissipative (ESD) properties, ULTEMTM 9085’s superior strength and thermal properties, and the chemical resistance of the PEKK base resin to offer a material that yields faster delivery of multi-functional production parts and tooling,” explained Scott Sevcik, Director of Aerospace & Defense Business Development at Stratasys.

In order to dissipate electrostatic charge buildup, spacecraft and electronics manufacturers normally use post-processing techniques such as coating, painting, and conductive tape. ESD PEKK’s conductive filler eliminates the need for these lengthy and sometimes costly post-processing steps, with 3D printed parts made from the special material able to be used straight from the 3D printer. What’s more, the tensile strength of the material and its resistance to chemicals and extreme temperatures provide it with further in-orbit advantages.

The space-resistant material is not available through the usual Stratasys sales channels, but customers can work with Stratasys Advanced Materials to develop their own tailored solutions. 3D printed components which require no post-processing may be seen as a great temptation by some spacecraft equipment manufacturers, and their adoption of ESD PEKK could see yet more 3D printed components launched into the stratosphere.



Posted in 3D Printing Materials



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