Jakub Stojek, CEO of Orbital Matter and Robert Ihnatisin, Chief Technology Officer, with a replica of their Replicator CubeSat at their office in Warsaw. Credit: ESA

Orbital Matter, a company based in Poland and Germany, ambitions to be one of the first companies to manufacture large elements of space infrastructure directly in orbit, on the Moon and Mars, reducing this way costs and increasing access to space.

A prototype of the vacuum printer onboard Orbital Matter’s Replicator CubeSat. Credit: ESA

To do so, it develops a 3D printing process that works directly in a vacuum and under microgravity, without requiring heat to be generated during manufacturing. According to the European Space Agency, as there is no atmosphere to cool down parts via convection cooling, like blowing on a spoonful of hot soup, it takes a long time – months – for parts to cool down just through irradiation (simply waiting for the soup to lose heat). Orbital Matter’s process prints without heat, making it much faster to build structures in a vacuum.

Orbital Matter has already demonstrated that their 3D printing technology works in a vacuum on Earth, but with the Ariane 6 first launch, they will perform their first in-space demonstration. This demonstration is called the “Replicator mission” – a name given an homage to the many forms of advanced manufacturing methods in science fiction, capable of making complex products, ready to use.

The demonstration consists in a three-unit CubeSat (10x10x30 cm) that will print a 50 cm-long beam while at an altitude of 580 km, out of a custom polymer material.

Thanks to the ESA PUSH opportunity, we’re demonstrating our 3D printer in orbit a remarkable 12 months ahead of schedule,” says Jakub Stojek, CEO of Orbital Matter. “This is a great example of how European technological independence can be built in space, by fostering rapid prototyping for startups across Europe.”

Orbital Matter has been assisted throughout the planning and development of their mission by Paris-based launch provider RIDE! space, who took part in ESA’s PUSH tender and were selected to organize a contest where the winner would receive end-to-end launch management and procurement of one or several deployers.

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