Zortrax, a Polish 3D printer and filament manufacturer, announced that its Z-PEEK filamenthas been approved by European Space Agency (ESA) for space use as it has met the critical outgassing requirements. This means that parts made of Z-PEEK filament can be used in space missions.
Before being cleared for space flight, all polymeric materials must meet stringent outgassing requirements. Gases emitted by the vast majority of polymers in high vacuum tend to contaminate sensors and other delicate spacecraft components, severely reducing their performance. As a result, only a few polymers are suitable for use in space. Z-PEEK filament, a polyether ether ketone-based 3D printing material designed to work with the Zortrax Endureal industrial 3D printer, is now one of them.
Z-PEEK is one of the world’s toughest polymers. It has a strength-to-weight ratio similar to stainless steel and outstanding thermal properties. Over 22 million cycles in PEEK-steel gear pairs operating at 1600 rpm, the material can withstand thermal cycling in vacuum chambers used for space qualification tests, radiation, or wear. Z-PEEK meets ESA outgassing requirements according to the ECSS-Q-ST-70-02C standard. As a result, this material has been cleared for spaceflight.
Major space agencies, such as ESA and NASA, use standardized testing procedures to evaluate the outgassing properties of materials they intend to send into space. This procedure is governed by the ECSS-Q-70-02A standard at ESA, for which Zortrax is currently working on two separate 3D printing projects. On March 17, 2022, ESA issued a report confirming Z-compliance PEEK’s with this standard. This means that parts 3D printed with Z-PEEK on the Zortrax Endureal 3D printer can be launched into space missions as long as other application-specific requirements are met.
“Compliance with outgassing requirements is absolutely crucial when it comes to providing materials for space industry. Having those properties confirmed by tests done at ESA’s ESTEC facilities and getting an official report from those tests enable us to provide more value to our most demanding customers”– Michał Siemaszko, Head of Research and Development Department at Zortrax
However, outgassing properties are only one of the reasons why Z-PEEK is an excellent 3D printing material for the space industry. The first paper, co-authored by Zortrax engineers and an ESA team led by Dr. Ugo Lafont, an expert on polymeric materials at ESA, was presented earlier in March 2022 at the IEEE Aerospace Conference in Big Sky, Montana, USA. Parts 3D printed with Z-PEEK passed thermal vacuum cycling tests performed between –100 °C and 100 °C in a joint research project conducted by ESA and Zortrax teams.
CT scans conducted before and after the tests revealed no evidence of degradation in the tested sample. Furthermore, ESA mechanical strength values measured on samples 3D printed with Z-PEEK on the Zortrax Endureal 3D printer were among the highest ever reported in scientific literature.
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