Apr 1, 2016 | By Alec

3D printing is heading for space, and not just due to the innovative work of NASA or SpaceX. The Russian-made 3D printed microsatellite Tomsk-TPU-120, a student-made test satellite that will explore the viability of small 3D printed spacecraft, has just been launched into space. Yesterday, on March 31 at 19:24 local time, the cargo space vehicle Progress MS-02 was launched from the Kazakh Baikonur Cosmodrome launch site, and is expected to be docked to the ISS on April 2.

According to all reports, the launch went well. The MS-02 cleanly separated from the third stage of the launch vehicle 8 minutes and 45 seconds after the launch, Russian media reports. It is now on schedule for its rendezvous with the International Space Station, where it will automatically dock into the Zvezda module, under control of the Lead Operational experts of the Russian ISS segment management group, as well as the Russian members of the ISS crew. “The vehicle’s separation from the rocket was normal,” a Roscosmos official said. It is the second launch of a Soyuz-2.1a rocket with space vehicle of the Progress family since the failed launch in April 2015. During the journey to the ISS, several systems will be tested.

But of course this vehicle will deliver a lot more than just a small satellite. Aboard the MS-02 are 2.5 tons of cargo, including fuel components, oxygen, water and gas supplies, as well as scientific and medical equipment, spare parts and private parcels for the crew. It also, of course, carries a new set of food rations, including fresh fruits and vegetables, such as apples, grapefruit, oranges, onions and garlic. “The crew haven’t ordered anything apart from their usual menu,” one official said.

But of course the most remarkable piece of cargo is the 3D printed Tomsk-TPU-120 microsatellite, which we first reported on last month. This is the first time a Russian-made 3D printed satellite will be taken into operation, and will mostly act as a test subject for future aerospace 3D printing applications. The Tomsk-TPU-120 satellite therefore features a number of new materials, and of course a new manufacturing process. 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.

The satellite is also a truly Russian creation, designed through a collaboration with various Russian institutes and involving twenty students from the Tomsk Polytechnic University, who have been working on this small satellite since 2014. Just 300 x 100 x 100 mm in size, it features two main 3D printed elements: the lightweight plastic container and the ceramic battery packs, revealed Alexey Yakovlev, the director of the High Tech Physics Institute. The battery unit is the world’s first to be made of 3D printed zirconium.

Once successfully aboard the 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,” its developers said. Its mission is set to last for six months, and if successful, could usher in a new era of 3D printed satellites.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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