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September 2015

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Project Pioneers Use of Additive Manufacturing in Outer Space



A computer-generated image of the FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC-2, scheduled to launch in 2016. Image credit: NSPO, NOAA, NASA/JPL, UCAR, SSTL

The complex arrays are made of ULTEM, a high-strength FDM thermoplastic that was tested and met NASA class B/B1 flight hardware requirements. Image credit: RedEye

Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, provider of 3D printing and additive manufacturing services, has partnered with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to 3D print 30 antenna array supports for the FORMOSAT-7 Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate (COSMIC-2) satellite mission.

Scheduled for launch in 2016, the COSMIC-2 mission marks the first time 3D printed parts will function externally in outer space, according to Stratasys Direct Manufacturing. The antenna arrays will capture atmospheric and ionospheric data to help improve weather prediction models and advance meteorological research on Earth.

In order to keep the project on time and on budget, JPL needed an alternative to machining the parts out of astroquartz, the material traditionally used for the arrays. They turned to Stratasys Direct Manufacturing to produce 3D printed parts that could handle the complex array designs and also be strong enough to withstand the demands of outer space.

Stratasys Direct Manufacturing built the custom-designed parts using fused deposition modeling (FDM), the only additive manufacturing process able to meet the project's strength and load requirements, according to the company. JPL chose durable ULTEM 9085 material, a thermoplastic that has similar strength to metals like aluminum but weighs much less.

"Using FDM for a project like this has never been done before and it demonstrates how 3D printing is revolutionizing the manufacturing industry," said Jim Bartel, Senior Vice President of Strategy, Marketing and Business Development at Stratasys Direct Manufacturing. "If this technology can be validated for use in the harsh environment of outer space, its capabilities are seemingly endless for projects here on Earth."

While ULTEM 9085 has been well vetted in the aerospace industry and is flammability rated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), it has not previously been used or tested for an exterior application in space. The material passed qualification testing to meet NASA class B/B1 flight hardware requirements. To protect the antenna array supports against oxygen atoms and ultraviolet radiation, a layer of NASA's S13G protective paint was applied to the parts.

"The intricate design of the arrays and the durability of ULTEM 9085 made additive manufacturing a perfect choice for this project," said Joel Smith, Strategic Account Manager for Aerospace and Defense at Stratasys Direct Manufacturing. "Not only did it prove the strength of 3D printed parts, but using FDM to build these supports significantly reduced time and cost."

For more information contact:

Alyssa Kiner

Stratasys Direct Manufacturing

28309 Ave Crocker

Valencia, CA 91355

661-295-3652

alyssa.kiner@stratasysdirect.com

www.stratasysdirect.com

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