ESA title
3D-printed antenna
Enabling & Support

Advanced manufacturing can 3D print lightweight antennas

29/08/2019 209 views 2 likes
ESA / Enabling & Support / Space Engineering & Technology / Shaping the Future

Conventionally, when missions require small reflectors they are normally made out of heavy materials, such as metal. But a recent GSTP activity has shown that by using additive manufacturing methods, much lighter reflectors could be built still using metal but with far more complex designs and able to withstand higher temperature ranges than the standard reflectors we normally build.

The activity, conducted with HPS GmbH (DE) and Fraunhofer IWS (DE), assessed whether a titanium alloy was a suitable candidate for the 3D printing material since, until now, little was known about how the material might behave.

One aim of the activity was to rectify this knowledge gap -- to increase our know-how related to the design, expand our analysis of additive manufactured parts and to improve the material database.

To see whether the material and the manufacturing process could produce better-performing, lighter and cheaper components the activity designed, manufactured and tested a breadboard antenna.

For this 3D-printed antenna, two test campaigns were performed using titanium, which increased the material database significantly.

Despite some thermally introduced distortions and shrinkage, titanium is a very suitable material for this additive layered manufacturing technique and also for building RF-reflective parts. It is also known for being difficult and cost intensive to manufacture for high accuracy parts, meaning the cost and mass savings made possible by using it in 3D printing (in comparison to conventional manufacturing methods) were shown to be huge.  

Next the activity (G61A036QTa) plans toassess how different thicknesses affect the breadboard’s performance, manufacture a version using an aluminium alloy and improve the surface roughness through mechanical reworking or a coating.