A powder 3D printer delivers a working satellite in space
In the latest development in 3D printing for space exploration, 3D Printing Industry recently reported on Russian astronauts’ successful deployment of a new satellite created entirely with a powder 3D printer. The Tomsk-TPU-120 features no engines, and will spend five months in orbit before burning up naturally in the Earth’s atmosphere as its orbit decays. The satellite was designed and printed at Tomsk Polytechnic University, and it will continue to be monitored by the university’s Student Flight Control Centre for the duration of its time in orbit.
The video below shows the satellite’s launch from the International Space Station, which was done completely by hand during a spacewalk:
This successful launch follows Russia’s first 3D-printed ‘microsatellite’ in 2016, which was also notable for being printed in zirconium. Considering this success, along with the strides Made in Space have made in developing new materials for printing parts in space, and the research taking place at Imperial College London, 3D printing looks set to continue playing a part in future space exploration projects.
In particular, the idea of creating disposable satellites with a powder 3D printer is a clever, creative application for the technology. In addition to speeding up the process of getting a satellite into orbit, we would expect the resulting cost savings to open up space exploration to new sectors back on Earth, such as universities and research institutions.
This project is an excellent example of how 3D printing can open new doors within a sector, both for the global leaders and ambitious newcomers. Furthermore, the use of comparatively affordable printed parts that can either be recycled or allowed to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere could potentially help mitigate concerns about the build up of ‘space junk’ in orbit. We look forward to seeing what future collaborations between academia, research and space exploration institutes yield.