Stratasys-certified ULTEM 9085 parts used for International Space Station Mini-Euso telescope

Stratasys, the leader in global additive manufacturing, has revealed that ULTEM 9085™ certified 3D printed parts are being used for a cosmic UV telescope on the International Space Station (ISS).

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).

3D Printed Mini-EUSO

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.

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.

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

3D Printed Mini-Euso
3D Printed Mini-Euso.

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.

We explored numerous ways. 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.Tommaso Napolitano, Head of Mechanics Design and Construction Department at INFN

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.

A part of Mini-EUSO that was produced with ULTEM™ 9085 resin using a Stratasys Fortus 450mc 3D Printer.
A part of Mini-EUSO that was produced with ULTEM™ 9085 resin using a Stratasys Fortus 450mc 3D Printer.

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.

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