Jun 21, 2017 | By David

The pioneering work of Stratasys Ltd has been having a serious impact on the 3D printing world for almost as long as the technology has been around, and now its latest contribution will be expanding its sphere of influence even further, beyond our own planet into outer space. The German space program will be making use of a Stratasys 3D printer, to create a prototype of the robot that will be exploring the surface of Mars in a mission in under five years’ time.

The exploration robot is known as the TransRoPorter, and it is being developed by the German Aerospace Center at the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics. Testing various features of the design and functionality of the robot, which is due to be launched on an unmanned flight, required a detailed working prototype to be assembled. This is where the German Aerospace Center turned to FDM 3D printing technology, as opposed to conventional metal prototype production. A Stratasys Fortus 900mc Production 3D Printer was chosen to make the prototype by Dr. Kaj Fuehrer, Head of System Building Technology South (Leiter Systemhaus Technik Süd), who is developing the TransRoPorter with his colleagues Dr. Stefano Seriani and Dr. Armin Wedler.

“For us it was clear, a prototype made out of metal was too expensive and complex in production,” said Dr. Fuehrer. “In the planning of this project, we always preferred 3D printing technology,” he continues. “It became evident to us that using 3D printing for the production of the TransRoPorter was truly the least expensive, fastest and most elegant solution. Everyone involved in the project is delighted with the outcome.”

The TransRoPorter consists of 2 main components- the moveable TRP Rover-Unit, which will be navigating the unstructured terrain of Mars’ surface, and a Payload Modue, which contains spare parts, communications technology and scientific tools for research. These were 3D printed in prototype form to a high level of complexity before being tested in ways that simulate the extreme conditions the TransRoPorter will be facing on Mars.

It was particularly important that the material properties of the prototype were effective and controllable for tests, and a ASA thermoplastic material developed by Stratasys was chosen accordingly. According to Seriani, “The stability of the ASA material also played a large role for us. We needed a fully functional prototype that could perform in all tests and withstand the strain of the design. The tough and rigid properties of the Stratasys material were therefore an ideal fit to test the TransRoPorter’s functionality for its journey to Mars.”

It’s another major landmark for Stratasys to see its 3D printing solutions being used for such an ambitious and advanced project as space exploration, and the German Aerospace Center will surely not be the last team to take advantage of what the company has to offer. More generally the TransRoPorter prototype shows how 3D printing technology can change what it is possible for the aerospace sector to achieve. According to Andy Middleton, President of Stratasys EMEA, ‘’The project is a prime example of how our FDM 3D printing technology and materials can enable designs to be tested quickly in extreme conditions, particularly important in aerospace where complex geometries are required and each part needs to be qualified. We look forward to seeing how additive manufacturing will be adopted further along the development of the TransRoPorter.”

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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