Mar 1, 2016 | By Alec

Few industries have been pushing the 3D printing envelope as much as the aerospace sector, but it’s by no means restricted to NASA and SpaceX – though they are achieving much. Back in September 2015, a partially 3D printed Chinese satellite was successfully launched, and now a student-made Russian satellite called the Tomsk-TPU-120 is about to follow. As the Tomsk Polytechnic University revealed, the first Russian-made 3D printed nano-satellite (based on the CubeSat) will be sent up to the International Space Station (ISS) at the end of March, from which it will be launched during a spacewalk.

This is the first time a Russian-made 3D printed satellite will be taken into operation. According to the information services of the Tomsk Polytechnic University, it is mostly a test subject. The Tomsk-TPU-120 satellite has been made with a number of new materials, and of course a new manufacturing process, and will be used to test research models for the University’s Institute of Strength Physics and Materials Science. Packed with sensors, it will record the temperature fluctuations on board the satellite and track exactly how the batteries, parts and electronics function. All that data is to be sent to earth in real time, enabling scientists to learn more about spacecraft manufacturing and help the students optimize small satellite design. It will even, they say, be used to decide on small spacecraft manufacturing plans for the future.

To realize these ambitious plans, the Tomsk-TPU-120 satellite is to be launched on 31 March, and will be in operation in space for about six months. ISS astronauts will ‘unleash’ it during a spacewalk, after which the satellite will start to orbit at around 400 kilometers. “This is the first 3D printed satellite shell, showing that 3D printing technology has created a breakthrough for manufacturing small satellites, making them more massive and convenient,” they said. The final preparations for the 3D printed satellite are currently taking place, before it will be shipped to the Baikonur launch site in the deserts of Kazakhstan.

Designed through a collaboration with various Russian institutes that are working on small robotized aircrafts (weighing anywhere from 1.5 to 20 kg), twenty students have been working on this important satellite since 2014. This little satellite is just 300 x 100 x 100 mm in size. Based on standardized CubeSat, it can’t contain any detachable parts, explosives or pressured tanks – it’s just slightly larger than a CubeSat. “Those changes allowed us to place in the satellite a new motor-flywheel, which was developed in TSU. Moreover, in cooperation with the Tomsk Institute of High Current Electronics the guys [solved] the problem of implantation of ion-plasma engine, which will allow us to give it motion impulses not only in orbit, but also in space, into CubeSat,” said Valeriy Borisov, head of TPU’s Department of Precise Instrument Engineering.

The inside of the 3D printed cube is basically a thick sandwich of electronic board layers, and is filled with batteries and sensors, and also featuring solar batteries. “The basic orientation of the device is performed by the magnetic field of the Earth and we have two additional elements – the motor-flywheel and the ion-plasma engine,” explains TPU student Evgeniy Tarakanets. “In other words, we use an active orientation system, which is usually used in large spacecraft, and we can direct our satellite remotely to the necessary point.”

Two important elements of this futuristic satellite have been 3D printed: the lightweight plastic container and the ceramic battery packs, revealed Alexey Yakovlev, the director of the High Tech Physics Institute. The team had to meet several conditions in terms of strength, density and more, and reportedly met all of them with the help of 3D printing. An important role was played by the ceramic layer, which not only protects the battery pack but also shields it from the sun’s damaging heat – while absorbing enough to maintain a constant temperature when in the shadow side of the earth.

Incidentally, there’s also another, festive, reason for this launch. In May 2016, Tomsk Polytechnic University will celebrate its 120th anniversary, while it will have been 55 years since the first manned flight into space took place To coincide with those events, the university students have programmed the satellite to transmit greetings to the planet’s inhabitants in ten different languages: Russian, English, German, French, Chinese, Arabic, Tatar, Indian, Kazakh and Portuguese. According to the university, the message will celebrate that technological and aerospace history, and wish peace and happiness to all the people of the world.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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