Aerospace AMAM for SpaceDrones/UAV

Windform of change: CRP 3D printing democratizes space

Windform PBF composite materials are used by space agencies and research centers for miniature satellites and deployers

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Typically weighing less than 2 kg, microsatellites may be small, but they are having a big impact in the world of aerospace. The miniature satellites, which are compact and easy to launch, are today being used by commercial, governmental, military, and civil entities for multiple purposes, from monitoring electro-smog pollution, to improving telecommunications, to collecting data, to capturing high-frequency images of the Earth from space. But what is behind the recent proliferation and success of these small devices? For one, miniature satellites offer massive benefits over larger ones (like far less expensive launch costs) and they are enabled by the continuing trend of miniaturization in electronics. But there is also another factor that is making their development possible and accessible: additive manufacturing technology.

CRP Group’s engineering-grade Windform composite materials for the powder bed fusion process have opened up new opportunities for developing low-cost mini satellites that meet the rigors of in-space use. The company’s carbon and glass fiber-reinforced materials have been developed with aerospace applications in mind.

CRP's Windform PBF composite materials are used by space agencies and research centers for miniature satellites and deployers.
The impact of Windform Materials for the Aerospace industry

CRP Technology has long partnered with aerospace leaders like JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), with certain grades successfully withstanding G-force and meeting NASA and ESA outgassing standards. As we’ll see in more detail, Windform materials are important to the production of mini satellites, as evidenced by the fact many Windform satellites have been launched over the years and are still successfully in orbit.

Windform and the rise of miniature satellites

Italy-based CRP Technology, as well as its sister company CRP USA, have become important partners for a range of aerospace leaders and agencies in recent years. This is thanks to CRP’s specialty range of Windform composite materials for PBF, which offer the robustness and durability required for in-space applications, such as miniature satellites, as well as applications within our stratosphere, like UAS/UAV systems and innovative aircraft engine components (more on these later).

Tupod Launch. Photo Credit: Jaxa/Nasa.

CRP’s space-ready components have been used for the development and production of deployers and miniature satellites by national space agencies including Nasa and Jaxa as well as by aerospace industry leaders. Interestingly, the company’s products have evolved alongside CubeSat applications: with many new Windform materials coming out in recent years to meet the growing range of needs from aerospace applications and adjacent areas. For the aerospace sector alone, the company offers seven industrial-grade composite materials, which have a range of beneficial properties, like conductive or insulating properties, as well as outgassing resistance. In combination with the precision of powder bed fusion processes, the materials are ideal for creating strong, detailed structures optimized to fit various instruments and technologies in a compact space.

For instance, CRP Technology and CRP USA have established partnerships with Scottish aerospace company Alba Orbital, which is building and launching the world’s most advanced Picosatellites, and Pennsylvania-based Mini-Cubes LLC, which specializes in the development of PocketQube satellites for observation and communications missions. The former relies on a 3D printed device, AlbaPod v2, to deploy PocketQube satellites into orbit. The deployer is manufactured by CRP Technology and is made from Windform XT 2.0, a polyamide composite material reinforced with carbon fiber. It has successfully been used on four missions to launch 25 PocketQube payloads into orbit, and today AlbaPod v2 is the only operational, flight-proven PocketQube deployer on the market. CRP USA, for its part, has worked alongside Mini-Cubes LLC to manufacture space-ready PocketQube satellites using the same Windform composite.

Windform XT 2.0 offers the ideal material properties for mini-satellites, with high tensile strength, shock resistance, outgassing resistance, and air pressure and fluid resistance. The Windform composite material range is also characterized by being extremely low-density and lightweight (especially compared with metals with comparable strength and durability). This is critical because launch costs are in large part based on the payload’s weight, so the lighter the CubeSat, the easier and cheaper it is to deploy.

Compared to other 3D printing processes, like FDM, SLA (and even non-composite SLS), CRP’s Windform materials and PBF technology also offer several benefits, including the ability to produce stronger and more durable parts certified to withstand the environmental stresses of space. (Windform components have successfully undergone a variety of stress tests, including up to 14 kg of random vibration along all three axes and thermal vacuuming cycles ranging from -40 to 80 degrees Celsius.) Windform materials also demonstrate outgassing compliance and are suitable for use with electronics, like PCBs, batteries, and antennas. Windform LX specifically has insulating properties, which make it particularly well-suited for electronic housings.

CRP's Windform PBF composite materials are used by space agencies and research centers for miniature satellites and deployers.
Oresat with Triband,4 element antenna system fully operational despite the narrow space.

Windform satellite applications

We’ve spoken a lot about how 3D printed Windform is used for miniature satellites and deployers, but it’s interesting to know exactly what parts are being 3D printed and why. One common use of CRP’s 3D printing technology is to create complex structures that can fit electronics safely and snugly. “The complexity of wiring between multiple boards in a compact satellite was a challenge that Windform overcame,” the company explains.

In the TuPOD satellite, for instance, CRP USA 3D printed a smooth cylinder with no cavities except for a separate lower section designed specifically to house a single board with electronics. Thanks to the 3D printed design and the strength of Windform XT 2.0, the electronics board is adequately protected from damage that could occur during the TubeSat integration process.

CRP also assisted in the production of custom 3D printed components for the recent Oregon Aerospace Mission planned by the Portland State Aerospace Society (PSAS). The end goal was to develop vacuum-proof parts that could effectively fit multiple electronic components in a small space while also insulating them. By using the non-conductive Windform LX material, PSAS was able to create a housing that met the packing density needs of a three-band, four-element antenna.

“We don’t know of any other satellite with this kind of antenna density,” said a member of the PSAS team. “We were absolutely thrilled to find CRP’s Windform LX. It absolutely changed the way we design all parts of our satellite.” CRP’s high-performance composite materials have also been used to produce structural components for next-generation miniature satellites.

CRP's Windform PBF composite materials are used by space agencies and research centers for miniature satellites and deployers.
CRP Technology for FLYING-CAM’s largest and most versatile super drone with increased endurance features.

Democratizing space

The use of Windform materials and 3D printing has played a major role in the proliferation of miniature satellites, helping the orbital systems progress from a niche technology reserved for well-funded research organizations and space agencies to one that is more accessible to everyone. This democratization of AM space technology has the potential to transform countries and companies alike, as it allows for unprecedented access to information and insights about our world. CRP envisions a future where space exploration expands thanks to the widespread availability of specific additive manufacturing materials and technologies. The miniature satellites are part of this progress, and the small devices can today be used for a range of purposes, from simple observation to more complex data collection and exploration.

“The use of 3D printing technology in Windform has revolutionized and democratized the development of micro and nanosatellites,” CRP says. “These satellites are characterized by their low mass, high standardization, and use of commercial components, which significantly reduce costs and development times.”

Notably, the development of miniature satellites is just one area in the aerospace industry that CRP Group is playing a role.

The incorporation of cutting-edge Windform components in new generation aircrafts results in significant noise and friction reduction.

Next-generation aircraft enable sustainability

CRP Group’s Windform materials are also being used to unlock a new generation of aircraft that are designed with efficiency as a priority. The incorporation of cutting-edge Windform components in these aircraft has resulted in significant improvements. In one use case, 3D printed engine components played a key role in producing an aircraft engine with a 10% increase in efficiency compared to existing highly efficient engines. This achievement represents a major milestone in the ongoing efforts to enhance the performance and sustainability of modern aircraft.

“The main achievements of the project have been the strength and lightness of the parts, as well as their slimness,” says the company. “For the first time, the engine’s components were tested and approved for their ability to enhance speed performances while reducing noises and friction.” The use case, whose details are mostly undisclosed, successfully underwent a long and complex trial and is now entering the next phase of regular production deliveries.

UAS and UAVs are another important vertical for CRP Group and the company offers its services for the production of flight-ready structures, lightweight parts like brackets and propulsion systems, replacement parts, remote controls, and more.

Ultimately, CRP Group’s technology and particularly its rugged Windform materials are well positioned to unlock aerospace applications for a broader range of organizations, researchers, and startups, helping to usher in a new era.

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