Dec 29, 2016 | By Benedict

Alexey Yakovlev, head of the Institute of High Technologies at Tomsk Polytechnic University in Russia, has just given an update on the groundbreaking Tomsk-TPU-120, a fully 3D printed CubeSat that will be placed into orbit in 2017.

Back in April 2016, a group of scientists at Tomsk Polytechnic University had huge cause for celebration. The Tomsk-TPU-120, an incredible 3D printed micro-satellite developed by those scientists, had just arrived safely at the International Space Station, having been carried there aboard the Progress MS-02. In May, the 3D printed satellite sent test messages down to Tomsk Polytechnic to celebrate the university’s 120th anniversary. All was going to plan.

Half a year on, and the Siberian scientists behind the Tomsk-TPU-120 satellite are preparing for an even more exciting prospect: deploying the 3D printed CubeSat into orbit. According to the group, the satellite will be sent into the atmosphere during a spacewalk by Russian cosmonauts—hence the prominent handle on the device—some time in July 2017. And if everything goes to plan, the Russian space experts may then create several more 3D printed satellites.

According to Alexey Yakovlev, head of the Tomsk Polytechnic University's Institute of High Technologies, the 3D printed satellite is something of a landmark for additive manufacturing, being the first example of a fully 3D printed satellite: “The Tomsk-TPU-120 is the first such project in the world, in which the entire casing of a satellite is fully 3D printed using dynamic modeling,” Yakovlev recently told Sputnik. “The combination of these technologies can significantly reduce the development time and the number of full-scale tests, find new engineering solutions, and reduce the project's cost.”

In addition to its cost-saving potential, additive manufacturing has also enabled the Tomsk scientists to eke out further advantages from the Tomsk-TPU-120. For one, the 3D printed materials have made the satellite lightweight, robust, and able to resist vibrations. And secondly, those material advantages have opened up practical opportunities for the satellite: Yakovled has revealed that the 3D printed CubeSat could yet become part of a huge group of similar satellites that could be used to monitor agriculture, forest fires, climate change, and natural resources. “The current project is just the first stage of a long-term project to develop and create small, multi-purpose satellites,” Yakovled said.

The 3D printed satellite is now almost ready for its July 2017 deployment, but getting to that stage has required a great deal of time and effort from the Siberian satellite experts—and from other helpful contributors too. After experiments with the satellite were conducted not only on board the ISS, but also on the ground, the Tomsk scientists were able to depend upon friendly collaborators from across the world to give updates on the satellite’s broadcasting status. “Many radio amateurs from all across the world were able to catch a satellite signal on their radio stations, and posted videos of it on the Internet,” Yakovled reported.

Although the Tomsk scientists are hopeful that their 3D printed satellite will prove advantageous for the entire scientific community, they have also recognized that the deployment of the 3D printed capsule will be a difficult and expensive task, one that will need to be preceded by “repair or modernization” of the outer surface of the ISS. After being put into orbit, however, the CubeSat will be in free flight for around six months, eventually entering dense layers of the atmosphere where it will be destroyed.

As July 2017 approaches, we’ll be sure to keep a close eye on the progress of the Tomsk-TPU-120.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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