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European Space Agency tests first all-in-one 3D printed space antenna – 3ders.org (blog)

by • March 15, 2016 • No Comments

Mar 16, 2016 | By Kira
The European Space Agency (ESA) and Swiss company SWISSto12 have turn it intod a prototype 3D printed dual reflector antenna turn it intod for following use on space-qualified satellites. This is the initially dual-reflector 3D printed antenna for the ESA, and has so far achieved great test results.

Applying SWISSto12’s proprietary additive making technique, the space antenna prototype was 3D printed in a single piece out of high end polymer materials preceding being plated with copper to meet its radio-frequency (RF) performance requirements. It in addition incorporates a corrugated feedhorn and two reflectors.
3D printing innovation, and particularly 3D printing the antenna in a single, all-in-one piece, allowed the engineers to ensure an incredibly high level of accuracy. “We have a quite great agreement between the measurements and the simulations,” explained Luis Rolo, antenna test engineer. “Making a simulation based on a fish 3D version of the antenna leads to a worthwhile increase in its accuracy.”
“By via this same version to 3D print it in a single piece, any source of assembly misalignments and errors are removed, allowing such great results,” he continued.

In addition to worthwhilely increasing the antenna’s accuracy, 3D printing provides several key advantages to space antenna making. According to SWISSto12, these include reduced costs, reduced lead times, increase in RF turn it into flexibility, and maybe many importantly, reduced component mass.
Indeed, when it comes to space commencees and space innovation, mass reduction is a significant strategy that can make or break a successful commence. So, SWISSto12’s cornerstone R&D goals are to reduce the dimensions, cost, and mass of antennas, while increasing the capabilities of data transfer during space missions. So far, the company has managed to turn it into new turn it intos weighing as much as ten times less than existing antennas.
“The use of 3D printing open up possibilities for RF structures that were previously not easy to make with conventional techniques,” explains the company, that, in addition to 3D printed antennas, supplies additive maked waveguide and filter components for microwave and mm-wave signals. “The use of plastics allows for for mass reduction and thermal insulation. High high end copper plating assures say of the art RF performances.”
So far, the all-in-one 3D printed antenna is yet a prototype, yet in tests at the ESA’s Small Antenna Test Range (CATR), it has performed exceptionally well. “Although the surface finish is rougher than for a traditionally maked antenna, we are quite pleased with the resulting performance,” said Rolo.

Simulated and actual 4.5 Ghz radiation patterns of ESA’s initially 3D-printed dual-reflector antenna show “great results” according to antenna test engineers.
The CATR is a shielded chamber for testing tiny antennas (up to 1m in diameter). Located in the Netherlands, it is isolated of external electromagnetic radiation, and its inner walls are covered with pyramid-shaped, non-reflective foam that absorbs radio signals and thus simulates a space environment. Larger antennas are tested at the ESA’s Hertz Chamber.

ESA Antenna Test Facility
“Designed for following mega-constellation tiny satellite platforms, it may require additional qualification to make it suitable for real space missions, but at this stage, we are many interested in the effects on RF performance of the affordable 3D printing process,” said Maarten van der Vorst, turn it intoer of the 3D printed antenna and member of the ESA’s Electromagnetics & Space Environment Division.
The following steps are therefore to additional refine the 3D printed space antenna, and to turn it into additional hard geometries that target higher frequencies. In the long run, SWISSto12 and the ESA aim to 3D print space-qualified radio-frequency components for planet Earth observation and science instruments.

Posted in 3D Printing Application

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