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Stratasys Company, RedEye, 3D Prints Functional Antenna Arrays for NASA Satellites


This computer generated image, shows the FORMOSAT7/COSMIC2 satellite, which features 3D printed parts and is scheduled to launch in 2016.
Image courtesy of NASA JPL.

MINNEAPOLIS—A 2016 scheduled NASA launch of the COSMIC2 satellite mission will mark the first time 3D printed parts will function externally in outer space.

Thirty 3D printed antenna array supports for the FORMOSTAT7 Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate (COSMIC2) satellite mission, were produced by the Stratasys Company, RedEye, in partnership with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

The antenna arrays will capture atmospheric and ionospheric data to help improve weather prediction models and advance meteorological research on Earth.

In order to keep the project on time and on budget, NASA's JPL needed an alternative to machining the parts out of astroquartz, the material traditionally used for the arrays. They turned to RedEye to produce 3D printed parts that could handle the complex array designs and also be strong enough to withstand the demands of outer space.

RedEye built the customdesigned parts using Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), the only additive manufacturing process able to meet the project's strength and load requirements, according to project managers. NASA's JPL chose durable ULTEM 9085 material, a thermoplastic that has similar strength to metals like aluminum but weighs much less.


The 3D printed complex arrays are made of ULTEM, a highstrength FDM thermoplastic, that was tested and met NASA class B/B1 flight hardware requirements. Image courtesy of RedEye.
Image courtesy of NASA JPL.

“Using FDM for a project like this has never been done before and it demonstrates how 3D printing is revolutionizing the manufacturing industry,” said Jim Bartel, vice president and general manager at RedEye, in a press release. “If this technology can be validated for use in the harsh environment of outer space, its capabilities are seemingly endless for projects here on Earth.”

While ULTEM 9085 has been well-vetted in the aerospace industry and is flammability rated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), it has not previously been used or tested for an exterior application in space. The material passed qualification testing to meet NASA class B/B1 flight hardware requirements. To protect the antenna array supports against oxygen atoms and ultraviolet radiation, a layer of NASA's S13G protective paint was applied to the parts.

“The intricate design of the arrays and the durability of ULTEM 9085 made additive manufacturing a perfect choice for this project,” said Joel Smith, strategic account manager for aerospace and defense at RedEye, in the release. “Not only did it prove the strength of 3D printed parts, but using FDM to build these supports significantly reduced time and cost.”

RedEye leverages Stratasys' patented FDM and PolyJet 3D printing processes to assist companies in all phases of product development, from conceptual modeling to the production of enduse parts. Stratasys recently acquired Solid Concepts and Harvest Technologies to combine with RedEye to form an advanced manufacturing organization offering a broad range of both additive and traditional technologies.

This technical information has been contributed by
Stratasys, Inc.

Click here to find suppliers

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