3D printed electrical circuit made on Zortrax Endureal will be tested onboard the WISA Woodsat CubeSat scheduled for launch towards the end of 2021. Zortrax has been working with the support of the European Space Agency* to develop a composite 3D printing technology that enables fabricating space-ready parts with built-in polymeric based electrical circuits since late 2019. Now, an ESA designed functional demonstrator made using this technology will be flight-tested in low earth orbit in this pioneering mission.
“ESA had the opportunity to contribute to WoodSat’s payload and we requested Zortrax to manufacture one of the payload functional part we designed using PEEK and a unique electrically conductive PEEK. We had very tight time constraints and the use of dual 3D printing process has proven to be an asset to get the demonstrator ready and qualified on time.” – says Dr. Ugo Lafont, Materials’ Physics and Chemistry Engineer at ESA.
The demo circuit that is going to be tested on orbit is made with two blends of PEEK, one of the strongest polymers on the planet. The body and cover of the demonstrator is made with standard Z-PEEK material offered commercially for the Zortrax Endureal 3D printer. Electrically conductive paths are made with electrically conductive blend of PEEK enhanced with carbon nanotubes and graphene nano particles which has been developed and supplied to Zortrax by ESA. The goal of this demonstrator is to see how exposure to space environment will affect the circuit’s functionality during operation.
“WISA Woodsat is a unique mission focused on testing new materials and groundbreaking manufacturing technologies in space industry. Several parts of this CubeSat are made of birch wood covered with a special kind of coating that is supposed to protect it from space environment effect. It will be launched onboard a partially recoverable Electron rocket which has large parts of its body fabricated with lightweight carbon composites. Obviously, flight-testing 3D printed PEEK polymeric based electrical circuits for the first time in history fits great in the overall theme of this groundbreaking mission. We believe that innovative materials and additive manufacturing will make space more accessible and easier to reach for businesses and scientists worldwide. And Zortrax has a major role to play in shaping this future.” – says Mariusz Babula, CEO of Zortrax.
Zortrax Endureal 3D printer used by Zortrax to print the composite circuit demonstrator for WISA Woodsat is an industrial machine designed for processing high-performance polymers like Z-PEEK which are commonly used in space and aviation. The printer’s dual extrusion system is normally used to print the model with one polymer and easily removable support structures with another. For printing composite parts with two blends of PEEK, this system has been adapted to work interchangeably with two model materials – in this case two blends of PEEK.
“Achieving quality and precision of prints sufficient to make flight-ready parts was a major milestone for Zortrax research and development team. The 3D printed circuits used for ground-based tests nearly a year ago were relatively large and their geometry was simple. In just a year, we have developed a capability to print a circuit that was many times smaller and had to include holes for screws, routing for cables, along with polymer conductive paths while making sure it would survive launch phase and space environment conditions. All this in a device the size of a post stamp. Our progress in this in other similar projects truly makes the Endureal the backbone of Zortrax solutions aimed at space industry.” – says Jacek Krywko, Leader of Advanced 3D Printing Solutions at Zortrax.
In this and all other space projects currently underway at Zortrax, the RnD team is working with standard, commercially available Endureal 3D printers. This means composite 3D printing capabilities and other features designed specifically for ESA are going to be released to all customers who bought Endureal 3D printers as software updates when the technology reaches production level.
*The view expressed in this article can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Space Agency.
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