The Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the Russian Space Agency ‘Roscosmos’ had signed an ad hoc bilateral agreement, where Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN) used its Stratasys Fortus 450mc FDM 3D Printer to produce an entire mechanical structure for a first-of-its-kind cosmic UV telescope called Mini-Euso (Multiwavelength Imaging New Instrument for the Extreme Universe Space Observatory).
The telescope was specifically designed to study terrestrial and cosmic UV emissions from aboard the ISS through an Earth-facing window of the ISS’ Russian Zvezda module and was recently launched into space on board a Soyuz rocket.
The final scientific objective is to produce a high-resolution map of the Earth to significantly advance research on cosmic rays and also serve as an important experiment for future space missions.Marco Ricci, Lead Researcher at Laboratori Nazionali di Frascati INFN
It wasn’t smooth-sailing for the team at the start as they met several challenges when producing the mechanical structure of Mini-EUSO. Notably, they required a material that could meet the stringent certification requirements of the aerospace industry and the ISS, as well as bear the mechanical stress and vibrations of a rocket launch.
They however found the perfect alternative in ULTEM™ 9085 resin which met ISS’ safety and weight restrictions. The extreme durability and lightweight capabilities of the material made it perfect for the unforgiving space environment. Crucially, it also had exceptional insulation properties, as well as high chemical and thermal resistance.
The impact of 3D printing on this project has been unexpected and transformational. By using 3D printed polymers throughout the production of the Mini-EUSO’s mechanical structure, the overall cost of the project was reduced by a factor of ten, and a year’s worth of development time was saved.
While not the first, the Mini-Euso is just another fine example of how 3D printing is being utilized in new space companies. “For me, it’s clear now how 3D printing can significantly contribute towards the future success and technological progress of scientific research,” concludes Ricci.