Apr 18, 2017 | By Benedict

A 3D printable satellite launcher, the winner of last year’s International Space Station (ISS) Design Challenge, has been 3D printed in space. The device was designed by California engineer Andy Filo and selected for the top prize by Mouser Electronics Inc. and MythBusters’ Grant Imahara.

Back in November, we reported on the outcome of the ISS Design Challenge, a contest that encouraged makers from all over the world to create 3D printable tools that could be used by astronauts in space. The eventual winner of the competition, which is part of Empowering Innovation Together program, was California-based engineer Andy Filo, whose tiny 3D printed satellite launcher narrowly eclipsed designs for a 3D printed vice and a 3D printed pair of tongs for eating space food.

Electronics company Mouser Electronics and celebrity engineer Grant Imahara, the two main parties behind the ISS Design Challenge, have now announced that Filo’s 3D printed satellite launcher has been 3D printed in space. They report that the device is now in orbit and could someday be used by astronauts for a variety of missions.

The 3D printed satellite launcher allows astronauts to launch tiny, sub-100-gram “femtosatellites” in zero gravity conditions. These femtosatellites can be used to study Earth’s environment, monitor terrestrial disasters, and even fly in formation to create giant antenna. Filo’s design was chosen from 242 entries, after which it was transmitted to the ISS as a 3D printable file.

On April 3, the 3D printed femtosatellite launcher was 3D printed on the ISS’s Additive Manufacturing Facility 3D printer, after Made In Space and Filo made some last-minute modifications to the design. These changes included making the handle rounder for increased comfort and editing the design to increase printing speed.

Filo’s 3D printed satellite launcher is a simple device that uses a satellite’s own antenna as a launching mechanism. Several satellites can be stored in slots within the launcher, with special pins used to hold their compressed antenna in place. When one of these pins is removed, the antenna of the satellite functions like an uncoiled spring, propelling the satellite out into orbit. The launcher thus functions as a kind of “mothership” for femtosatellites.

“Mouser is excited to be part of new and innovative projects that bring together engineers and makers from around the world and—in this case—beyond,” said Glenn Smith, President and CEO of Mouser Electronics. “Andy’s femtosatellite-launching device meets the needs of astronauts as well as earthbound researchers and engineers.”

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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