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ESA puts 3D-printed satellite antenna to the test

by • March 19, 2016 • No Comments

We can’t print entire satellites yet, but the 3D printing of primary components is moving forward with ESA unveiling a prototype 3D-printed radio antenna. Today undergoing testing at ESA’s Small Antenna Test Facility in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, it is actually the space agency’s initially 3D-printed dual-reflector antenna incorporating a corrugated feed horn and two reflectors.

According to the ESA team working on the project, the new affordable antenna is created for use in a ” mega-constellation” of tiny satellites. It was printed as a single piece of polymer, and so copper plated via a special system to coat it evenly and completely, as well as to donate it the proper radio-frequency (RF) performance requirements.

In addition to lower costs and faster making, ESA says that 3D printing allows for the antenna to be created in a single piece despite its rigorous geometry. This removes the require for assembly and the misalignments and errors that this can cause.

Comparing simulated and actual measured 14.5 Ghz radiation patterns of ESA’s initially 3D-printed dual reflector antenna

ESA is testing the antenna in a shielded chamber created to remove outside interference when testing tiny satellite components. It yet requires additional qualification preceding its certified fit for space missions, and yet the finished antenna has a rougher finish than conventional ones, the ESA team is satisfied with its performance, that tallies well against desktop simulations.

Two various antennae were created for ESA by the Swiss company SWISSto12 and the space agency says that it can now concentrate on additional rigorous geometries that can handle higher frequencies with the goal of making space-qualified RF components for planet Earth observation and science satellites.

Source: ESA

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