3D Printed MakerSat Gets Ready to Test 3D Printing Materials in Space

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Last year, history was made by a group of students in Idaho who designed, 3D printed and assembled the state’s first satellite. Now, it’s finally time for that satellite to go into space. The students and teachers from Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) and Caldwell High School spent a tremendous amount of time and effort building MakerSat, a CubeSat that was selected by NASA for its CubeSat Launch Initiative, and this week that time and effort will pay off as MakerSat-0 travels into space aboard a Delta II rocket.

MakerSat-0 will fly at an altitude of 800 kilometers and will travel at 17,000 mph as it orbits the Earth in a sun-synchronous orbit, crossing the North and South Poles 14 times a day. Two hours after launch, it will begin sending test data to Earth, which students can access using their smartphones.

3D printing not only went into the making of the MakerSat, it’s one of the main focuses of the satellite’s mission. MakerSat-0 will be carrying half-gram samples of several common 3D printing materials: ABS, PLA, nylon, and PEI/PC Ultem. For the next several years, test data will be collected continuously on the effects that the outer space environment is having on the materials. Since so much 3D printing is taking place already on the International Space Station, and much more is planned for future space endeavors, it’s important to know how well the parts printed in those environments will hold up. MakerSat-0 is also carrying electronics that will collect the data in real time.

The MakerSat team

“This is the first of two MakerSat missions that we’re launching in partnership with Made In Space,” said Dr. Stephen Parke, NNU engineering professor and faculty lead. “The MakerSat missions will provide the space community with invaluable test data on how these materials react to oxygen plasma, ultraviolet and ionizing radiation, vacuum, extreme temperatures, and micrometeorite collisions.”

3D printed MakerSat-1 assembly rails on the ISS

The other MakerSat mission involves MakerSat-1, the frame for which was 3D printed on the ISS last year using Made In Space’s Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF). In early 2018, MakerSat-1 will be assembled and then launched into orbit from the ISS.

“Our AMF printer makes it possible to manufacture and assemble CubeSats on demand aboard the ISS,” said Matt Napoli, Vice President of In-Space Operations for Made In Space. “Using AMF, universities, government and company researchers can rapidly design, print, test, and iterate new research concepts at a much lower cost than traditional research methods on Earth. The MakerSat missions are going to provide us with materials research information that will be used for projects such as Archinaut, the first in-space, autonomous robotic additive manufacturing and assembly platform.”

MakerSat-0 is one of four satellites that was chosen by NASA for its Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) XIV mission. ELaNa was created to introduce spaceflight education into high schools and colleges across the US by having students develop their own CubeSats and work closely with NASA. One of the goals, in addition to the information the CubeSats will gather after being launched, is to attract students to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. MakerSat-0 will be the first instrument ever to collect real-time data on the effects of the outer space environment on 3D printed polymer materials.

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[Images: Made In Space]

 

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