Small sat creation assisted by 3D printing

Jon Lawson

The space industry has been revolutionised by the ever-increasing production and launch of small satellites. Additive manufacturing technologies not only helped this radical change to be fulfilled, but have reached new heights with the manufacture of structural components for the new generation of parts using high performance composite materials. 

Although much still must be done to reach an extensive use of additive manufacturing, CRP Technology has built a considerable experience supplying cutting-edge solutions for space key industry leaders. A clear and remarkable example comes from the experience with LISA.

The Italian-based company specialist for over 25 years in the use and development of advanced additive manufacturing technologies and materials, collaborated with the Laboratoire InterUniversitaire des Système Atmosphérique (LISA) of Universite Paris-est Creteil (UPEC) on the construction of a nano-satellite that is a 3U CubeSat formfactor. The project was carried by students under CNES and Space Campus University supervision.

The goal was to develop a demonstrator that can be flight-ready in Low Earth Orbit. The engineering team at LISA and CNES decided to rely on CRP Technology and its Windform Top-Line family of high performance materials for the manufacturing of the nano-satellite.

The project manager at LISA, commented, “Using such a process and composite material, we knew for sure we would be able to design the structure exactly the way we needed it.” The structure had to survive vibration tests (to endure the launch) and thermal-vacuum tests. It had also to withstand outgassing requirements.

Work began with an accurate analysis of the 3D and 2D files: through its long-standing technological expertise, CRP Technology suggested alterations that made it possible to optimise the geometries of the parts, reaching the required target in terms of mass optimisation and part integration.

CRP Technology has also been able to assist LISA and CNES in choosing the best technology and material to guarantee the success of the project: selective laser sintering and Windform XT 2.0 Carbon composite material.

Windform XT 2.0 replaces the previous formula of Windform XT in the Windform Top-Line family of composite materials. It features improvements in mechanical properties including +8% increase in tensile strength, +22% in tensile modulus, and a +46% increase in elongation at break. These mechanical properties have guaranteed the achievement of the required characteristics, i.e. stiffness, low mass as well as very smooth surface finish.

Once received, the .STP file with optimised geometries from LISA, CRP Technology created the functional 3D printed component (the nano-satellite structure).

The 3D printed part has successfully passed the control and testing criteria, and has fully complied with the requests and LISA’s standards.

LISA and CNES performed many tests on the structure such as vibration tests and thermal-vacuum tests. They were very satisfied with the results obtained. 

LISA team, stated, “Thanks to CRP’s laser sintering technology and Windform XT 2.0 Carbon-reinforced composite material, we obtained very important key advantages such as mass reduction, component integration, outgassing control, thermal expansion and low surface roughness. 



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