A collaborative project by the Italian Space Agency (ASI), the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos and the Instituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN) has revealed it 3D printed certified parts for a cosmic UV telescope that was recently deployed to the International Space Station (ISS).
The innovative telescope, named Mini-EUSO (Multiwavelength Imaging New Instrument for the Extreme Universe Space Observatory) is being used to study terrestrial and cosmic UV emissions from the ISS. The structure was launched into space recently, aboard a Soyuz rocket, and has been installed on the ISS’ Russian Zvezda module.
“With an orbit of about 90 minutes, Mini-EUSO records all space and atmospheric objects and events within sight, including UV emissions from night-earth, transient luminous events, meteors, space debris and more,” said Marco Ricci, Lead Researcher at Laboratori Nazionali di Frascati INFN and INFN Country Manager for Collaboration EUSO SPB2 Italia. “The final scientific objective is to produce a high-resolution map of the Earth in the UV range (300-400 nm), which is expected to significantly advance research on cosmic rays, but also serve as an important experiment for future space missions.”
Robust 3D printing
While interesting on the whole, a particular aspect of the project is most interesting to us: ASI and its partners utilized 3D printing to produce parts for the telescope, and the manufacturing technology was reportedly a pivotal part of the project’s success, helping to reduce costs substantially (by a factor of ten) and speeding up development time by about a year.
Parts were 3D printed using Stratasys‘ Fortus 450mc 3D printer and ULTEM 9085 material at the INFN’s Laboratori Nazionali di Frascati. The combination of these two products enabled the research team to produce parts that met the stringent requirements of the aerospace sector and the ISS. The parts also had to be able to withstand the mechanical stresses and vibrations of a rocket launch.
“We explored numerous ways in which we could achieve the expected performance while meeting material certification,” explained Tommaso Napolitano, Head of Mechanics Design and Construction Department at INFN, Laboratori Nazionali di Frascati. “We even built a full prototype in aluminum, one of the most commonplace materials for aerospace. But the results were far from expectation – the structure was too heavy and it did not provide the insulation required for the interior electrical currents.”
“As a result, we turned to our Fortus 450mc 3D Printer and found that the ULTEM 9085 resin offered the perfect alternative. Not only is the material extremely durable, but it’s lightweight,” he continued. “And crucially, it also offers exceptional insulation properties, as well as high chemical and thermal resistance. It’s fair to say that without the capability to print the Mini-EUSO structure in this material, we would not have met the ISS’ safety and weight restrictions.”
Data captured by the Mini-EUSO telescope has already been transmitted back to Earth and is being analyzed by a team. The equipment is part of a broader international program that seeks to investigate and study the origin and nature of ultra-high energy cosmic rays from space. The Mini-EUSO will help gather vital data for this initiative, spearheaded by the JEM EUSO Collaboration, for the next three years.