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Mitsubishi develops technology to 3D print cubesat antennas in space using sunlight

Capitalism in space: Mitsubishi this week announced a new technology it had developed that will allow small cubesats to 3D print antennas in space much larger than the satellite itself, using the sun’s ultraviolet radiation to harden the resin.

The full press release can be read here [pdf].

– On-orbit manufacturing eliminates the need for an antenna structure that can withstand vibrations and shocks during launch, which is required for conventional antenna reflectors, making it possible to reduce the weight and thickness of antenna reflectors, thereby contributing to the reduction of satellite weight and launch costs.

– Assuming the use of a 3U CubeSat (100 x 100 x 300 mm) specification, an antenna reflector with a diameter of 165 mm, which is larger than the size of the CubeSat bus, was fabricated in air, and a gain of 23.5 dB was confirmed in the Ku band (13.5 GHz).

Obviously this is still in development, but once viable commercially it will expand the capabilities of cubesats enormously, especially for interplanetary missions which need larger antennas for communications.

Conscious Choice cover

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

 
Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.

 

“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.

 

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

8 comments

  • pawn

    This is an outstanding development. Massive kudos for such out of the box thinking. I hope they are generous with their IP.

  • Ray Van Dune

    One can imagine additive-manufacturing bots that build entire satellites, space stations or spaceships, drawing their raw materials from a tanker, and working as a coordinated swarm. An orbiting factory could produce many different space vehicles at a high rate for very low cost! Or they could be specialized to build such things as heat shields… why take a heat shield to orbit when you can have one installed before you renter?

  • Alex Andrite

    WOW !
    Ray B., Issac A., as well as so many past and recent SciFi artists should have fun with this.
    Not to mention the “resin” manufactures … as in “Fifth Element”.
    Love it !!

  • Jeff Wright

    In zero gee, blobs want to be spheres…I wish them all the best.

  • Joe

    This looks very promising. I have resin printers in our Lab for experimenting with satellite bus designs. Keeping the resin in place in micro-gravity would be the hard part. UV solidified resin is straightforward. I have some. The future I coming faster than anyone wants to admit.

  • Edward

    The full press release talks about extrusion, which would mean that the material is no longer liquid, at the extrusion point, and not as susceptible to the forces of surface tension. Done right, they will not form spherical blobs but will be able to retain their intended shapes.

    When I was in college, my local student AIAA organization pondered NASA’s Getaway Special (GAS https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Getaway_Special ) offer, to test an inflatable antenna, which had similar shape-retention problems (again, the tendency to form a spherical shape no matter the intended shape). Eventually the group went for a different idea: test flame propagation in free fall (zero g).

    One of the problems with being Earthbound is the experiences that we learn from. Thinking off the planet is difficult, as we learn to design with gravity and its effects in mind as well as the effects due to atmospheric pressure. We have some experience with vacuum chambers, which helps us overcome the latter bias in our thinking, but the former is difficult to overcome. We will have to learn a new way of thinking as we do more and more experiments in space.

  • Ryan Lawson

    I’ve done a lot of extrusion of different polymers for filament 3D printers. This is doable, just takes a longer nozzle to maintain shape as it hardens coming out. Maybe use a nozzle that is semi-transparent to UV. Just have to experiment with the parameters until you get it right. I assume they have a reservoir and are metering out with a gear pump? Although zero-gravity might cause problems with that? Maybe you have a preloaded barrel with single screw.

    I’ve been pushing 3D printers in space at work for years, but never get any actual traction. Also, think of all the situations on Earth where a giant vacuum chamber is required and how expensive that is. Now imagine that space is an infinitely large and free vacuum chamber.

    There is so much money to be made up there.

  • pawn

    I’ll bet that the Japanese have a prototype machine up on ISS soon. I think their Kibo module has a Exposed Facility for checking out stuff like this. Probably a lot more development work needs to be on before spending a bunch of money on in-situ testing.

    Just as SpaceX changed how people think rockets are supposed to work, maybe someday this process will become ubiquitous as well.

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