Fleet Space Technologies relies on 3D Systems’ 3D printing technology and expertise to produce RF patch antennas

Remember Fleet Space Technologies? The private space company that recently announced it has made contact with its 12-kilogram satellite that successfully launched into orbit. As part of its project, the company is continuously exploring how far AM could be integrated to the development of its low-power satellite network. As a matter of fact, the company is currently working on the fabrication of its patch antennas which will power the development of the upcoming fully additively manufactured micro Alpha constellation, scheduled for launch in 2023.

In this vein, the team of the Australian company is currently working with 3D Systems’ Application Innovation Group (AIG), a consulting group that is known for developing key applications with companies across vertical industries adopting AM technologies.

In this specific case, the combination of Fleet Space Technologies’ unique design along with the expertise of 3D Systems’ Application Innovation Group (AIG) allowed them to architect a complete additive manufacturing solution – which includes process development and bridge production on its DMP Flex 350 – enabling the companies to move from Fleet Space’s existing RF patch design to small batch production in just three weeks.

Fleet’s Alpha constellation represents a significant leap forward in our mission to unlock the potential of truly global connectivity, in doing so creating global benefits for applications like making the search for critical minerals more sustainable and viable,” said Flavia Tata Nardini, founder and CEO, Fleet Space Technologies. “To achieve this, we constantly strive to find more ways to manufacture our technology to deliver exceptional quality at scale and in a way that is economically viable. Together with 3D Systems’ AIG, we are unlocking the remarkable potential of additive manufacturing at our world-class facility in Adelaide, South Australia. This technology will enable our people to create the production processes that will deliver on Fleet’s ambition to launch more than 140 low earth orbit satellites in the Alpha constellation.” 

According to a press release, Fleet Space Technologies is bringing a DMP Flex 350 printer into service at their headquarters in Beverley, Adelaide in order to bring production of its patch antennas in-house. The printer will be used to create RF patch antennas for each of the Alpha satellites operating in a constellation in low earth orbit as part of Fleet Space Technologies’ ExoSphere initiative for mining exploration with minimal environmental impact.

From a technical standpoint, it should be noted that the design of the antenna meets size, weight, and performance requirements while minimizing the need for post-processing. The 3DXpert® software enabled to support every step of the additive manufacturing workflow from design to post-processing. At the manufacturing level, two materials have been leveraged on the DMP Flex 350 3D printer: LaserForm AlSi10Mg and Al6061-RAM2.

The unique vacuum chamber architecture of the DMP Flex 350, which maintains a low oxygen environment (<25 ppm), was critical. Not only is argon gas consumption heavily reduced, but the vacuum chamber architecture also produces a good surface finish with fine feature detail which minimizes signal losses, 3D Systems states. 

With the combination of these technologies, the team could produce 55 RF patch antennas per build on the DMP Flex 350.

Our work with Fleet Space Technologies is yet another example of how 3D Systems helps our aerospace customers accelerate innovation and de-risk their additive manufacturing application development,” said Dr. Michael Shepard, vice president, aerospace & defense segment, 3D Systems. “We do this by partnering with customers to provide an application solution with the right hardware, materials, software, and services for their needs. In this case, we’ve been able to help Fleet Space Technologies bring a qualified production process for their satellite hardware in-house in a very short amount of time.”

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