3D printing to manufacture certified pieces to be used on the international space station

Mini-EUSO, a cosmic UV ray telescope, currently located on the ISS window facing the Earth, is enclosed in a fully 3D printed structure. 3D printing has reduced production costs by tenfold, saving nearly a year of development time.

As part of a bilateral agreement stipulated ad hoc between the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos, the Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN) used its Stratasys FDM Fortus 450mc 3D printer to produce, at the National Laboratories of Frascati (Rome), the entire mechanical structure of the first cosmic telescope for UV rays, currently located on board the ISS and built under the coordination of the Italian Space Agency.

The INFN is an Italian public research body in charge of promoting, coordinating and conducting scientific research in the field of nuclear, subnuclear and astroparticle physics. The LNF are one of the four national research centers of INFN which also carries out its activity in numerous sections located in the universities on the national territory. To further enhance the design work, the team recently introduced the PolyJet 3D printer for the first time. 

Mini-EUSO Flight Model printed in 3D, with structure made of ULTEM™ 9085 resin using a Stratasys Fortus 450mc 3D printer

The telescope called ‘Mini-EUSO’ (Multiwavelength Imaging New Instrument for the Extreme Universe Space Observatory), designed to study ultraviolet emissions of cosmic and terrestrial origin from the ISS, was recently launched into space from the base of Baikonur (Kazakhstan) aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket and successfully placed on a window facing the ground of the Russian module Zvezda of the ISS.

Marco Ricci, first researcher at the INFN National Laboratories of Frascati and INFN national manager of the EUSO SPB2 Italia Collaboration, explains:

“During an orbit of about 90 minutes, Mini-EUSO records all the objects and the spatial and atmospheric events captured, including the nocturnal emissions of the Earth in the ultraviolet, the transient light phenomena, the meteors, the space debris and more more. The final scientific objective is to produce a high resolution map of the Earth in the UV range (300-400 nm), contributing significantly to the observation and study of cosmic rays from space and acting as a precursor experiment for future missions space.”

Mini-EUSO component made of ULTEM™ 9085 resin by the INFN team

According to Ricci, the impact of 3D printing on this project has transformed it profoundly.

He considers:

“Using Stratasys FDM 3D printing to manufacture the mechanical structure of Mini-EUSO has allowed us to reduce the overall cost of the project by ten times, in addition to saving us about a whole year of development time. It is a result surprising that we never expected from 3D printing.”

The fabrication of the mechanical structure of Mini-EUSO presented several difficulties. In particular, the team needed a material capable of meeting the stringent certification requirements of the aerospace industry and the ISS, as well as withstanding the mechanical stresses and vibrations of a rocket launch.

The 3D printed Mini-EUSO telescope, successfully positioned on the window facing the Earth of the Russian module Zvezda on the ISS

Tommaso Napolitano, Head of the Mechanical Design and Construction Service of the Technical Division of the INFN National Laboratories of Frascati, says:

“We have examined numerous solutions to obtain the performance required in compliance with the certification of materials. We have also built a complete prototype in aluminium but the structure was too heavy and did not guarantee the necessary insulation from internal electric currents. As a result, we turned to our 3D printer and found that ULTEM 9085 resin offered the perfect alternative. Not only is the material extremely durable, but it is also light. And above all, it also offers exceptional insulating properties, as well as high chemical and thermal resistance. It can be said that if we had not been able to print the structure of Mini-EUSO in this material, we would not have been able to meet the strict safety and weight parameters of the ISS.”

Ricci concludes :

“Right now we are analyzing the first data recorded by Mini-EUSO and the results are very promising. As a researcher, I am extremely proud of the way the project was carried out and very enthusiastic about what we technological advancements of scientific research.”

Companies: Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare

Industries: Aerospace

Technologies: Other Processing Method

Terms: News Worldwide

This article has been edited by Basalt.Today
This article has been written on JEC Composites Magazine
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