How do you make something strong and light – and able to survive the extreme conditions of lower earth orbit? Aerospace company Sidus Space is innovating an entirely re-imagined satellite using 3D printed components.
Led by CEO and former US Navy officer Carol Craig, Sidus is building a business out of strong 3D printing satellites that can serve a multitude of operations and customers in a single unit, thereby reducing the number of satellites needed to be launched into space.
Not only does the satellite need to pass all the rigorous certification standards required of all aerospace engineering, but it must not weigh more than 100kg. This engineering challenge is the work of lead design checker and former NASA engineer Tony Boschi.
He explains: “You’ve got batteries, computers, all the components that make the satellite operate that take up significant weight - the more weight I can remove from the rest of the structure, the more payload we can put in.”
Putting more payload into each satellite is tied to the company’s mission of having multi-use satellites that can serve a multitude of clients.
Using 3D printing on Markforged’s Digital Forge Platform, Boschi and the team have re-designed the satellite’s entire structure. Using Onyx FRA, Markforged’s flame-retardant and traceable version of its nylon Onyx material, with continuous carbon fibre reinforcement, Sidus can print parts that are comparable in strength to metal while also reducing weight and lead time.
“Not many people think of how much a screw weighs,” Boschi says. “But obsessing over such efficiencies allows Sidus to shave precious ounces off of the frame by creating structures that also house electronics.”
One example of the way 3D printing has benefitted the project is the way the satellite jigsaws together, which saved screws and eliminated precious ounces of weight from the final design. The unique geometry of these supports would have been impossible to machine. It enables customisations that build mounting opportunities in the structure itself that otherwise would have required additional pieces and weight in the form of metal fixings.
“This would not have been possible without Markforged,” asserts Carol Craig.
Sidus Space plans on launching many satellites in the near future that will serve a variety of industries.
But Sidus Space is printing more than just the satellite. When an impeller broke on the machine that produces Sidus' custom screws (requiring the machine to be down for weeks to months while waiting for the part), Boschi 3D printed an exact replica on a Markforged X7 in under 40 minutes. He commented: “The original OEM part broke and had to be re-ordered every 3-6 months but the first design we printed has been in service for over a year.
Sidus Space is entering the emerging satellite-powered geospatial intelligence market by building and operating its own constellation of up to 120 satellites. These partially 3D-printed ‘LizzieSat’ satellites can carry customer sensors and other technologies for a fee, while also collecting data for insights on aviation, maritime, weather, space services, earth intelligence and observation, financial technology, and the Internet of Things.