Oct 31, 2016 | By Tess

A team of researchers from the Northwest Nazarene University in Idaho will soon see their 3D printed satellite launched into space. The satellite, called MakerSat, is Idaho’s first, and is the result of two-and-a-half years of hard work on the part of students and professors from the university. NASA plans to launch the 3D printed satellite on March 16, 2017.

MakerSat, which measures only about 10×10×11.35 cm, falls into the category of CubeSat satellites: a type of small cube-shaped satellite that is used for space research. The small device, which in the case of the Northwest Nazarene team was made using 3D printed components, will help NASA to gather research and data on how well 3D printed materials and parts fare in outer space. Once launched, the tiny MakerSat satellite will orbit the Earth at a speed of 17,000 miles per hour, meaning it will make a full orbit once every 100 minutes.

The research team, which is composed of four students and two professors, were chosen by NASA to help design and build the 3D printed satellite. Initially, the project was supposed to launch in 2018, but NASA moved the date forward by a full year after seeing the progress made by the researchers at an aerospace conference. MakerSat is currently expected to be launched into space alongside the NOAA satellite in March 2017.

The 3D printed MakerSat is yet another helpful step in the integration of 3D printing in space, as its findings will allow NASA to better understand how 3D printing can be used in space. Among the listed mission objectives for MakerSat are to “demonstrate space additive manufacturing and assembly on the ISS”, multi-user, multi-project satellite architecture, to determine how and at what rate 3D printed polymers (like ABS, ULTEM and Nylon) decay in outer space, and to capture images of the Earth. In line with these goals, the researchers have also set out to offer a more time and cost effective way to manufacture a CubeSat.

Ultimately, the team of researchers is hoping to contribute to NASA’s eventual goal of 3D printing a structure or even a spacecraft within space. Once launched, the MakerSat 3D printed satellite will orbit the Earth for roughly ten years. If all goes well with its launch, the Northwest Nazarene team will continue to develop its satellite and work on its next iteration the MakerSat 1, which will be designed to be printed and assembled on the ISS using their Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF).

Come March 2017, we’ll be eager to see how the launch of the MakerSat goes.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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