Jul 24, 2017 | By Benedict

Russian astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) are preparing to launch Russia’s first 3D printed satellite into space. The Tomsk-TPU-120 satellite was sent to the ISS in March 2016, and will be deployed on August 17, 2017.

The world has changed a great deal since Russian scientists first prepared the Tomsk-TPU-120 satellite for its voyage to the ISS last year. Just think: when the sensor-packed, 300 x 100 x 100 mm satellite was being packed up for space flight in early 2016, had you even heard of Jared Kushner?

But that was then and this is now, and 2017 will finally see Russia’s first 3D printed satellite move from the ISS into space. It’s had to wait for it’s opportunity though: scientists at Tomsk Polytechnic University thought the 3D printed CubeSat could be launched within six months of its arrival on the ISS; the time elapsed is now well over a year.

Thankfully, the university put out a press release today in which it specified the exact date on which the 3D printed satellite is expected to be launched.

“On Monday, the satellite’s systems will be checked, and its batteries will be charged from the Station onboard equipment,” the university said. “The launch is scheduled for August 17.”

The launch will be performed by Russian cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Sergei Ryazansky, who will deploy the 3D printed vessel by hand from the exterior of the ISS. (A large handle is clearly visible on one side of the satellite.) Once the 3D printed satellite is orbiting, it will remain in space for between four and six months, before eventually being destroyed by the dense layers of the atmosphere.

An important part of the 3D printed Tomsk-TPU-120 project is its use of experimental materials. The satellite is being used to test research models for the University’s Institute of Strength Physics and Materials Science, and scientists will be able to monitor the satellite’s internal temperatures (including that of its battery) and electronic component parameters as it orbits.

This information will enable the scientists at Tomsk Polytechnic University to determine whether their chosen materials are suitable for future space missions.

When building the 3D printed satellite, the scientists had help from both the Energiya Aerospace Corporation and the Institute for Studies of the Physics of Strength and Material Engineering of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Siberia. Together, the three parties fitted the satellite with a 3D printed casing and 3D printed ceramic battery packs, making the device Russia’s first 3D printed satellite.

This collaboration followed the establishment of a Russian satellite-developing consortium dedicated to creating satellites weighing between 3 kg and 30 kg.

(Images: Tomsk Polytechnic University)

“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,” the scientists explained last year.

In May 2016, to mark the 120th anniversary of Tomsk Polytechnic University, the 3D printed Tomsk-TPU-120 was activated whilst aboard the ISS to transmit a greeting to people on Earth. A message, recorded by students at the university, was delivered in 11 languages: Russian, English, German, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Arabic, Tatar, Kazakh, Hindi, and Spanish.

Russian space authorities are planning to launch two groups of small satellites into space in the course of the next two years. If the information gathered from the Tomsk-TPU-120 is positive, it is possible that these and future satellites could also be 3D printed.

The country’s engagement with additive manufacturing technologies in the aerospace sector mimics its work in other areas. Two weeks ago, Russia’s Russia’s Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov suggested that 3D printed aluminum wheels could benefit the country’s aluminum and automotive industries.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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