As part of an ad hoc bilateral agreement between the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the Russian Space Agency ‘Roscosmos’, Italian government research centre, Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN – National Institute for Nuclear Physics) used its Stratasys Fortus 450mc FDM 3D Printer to produce the entire mechanical structure of a first-of-its-kind cosmic UV telescope currently situated aboard the ISS, realised under the coordination of the Italian Space Agency.
Designed to study terrestrial and cosmic UV emissions from the ISS, the telescope named ‘Mini-EUSO’ (Multiwavelength Imaging New Instrument for the Extreme Universe Space Observatory) was recently launched into space onboard a Soyuz rocket and successfully placed on an earth-facing window of the ISS’ Russian Zvezda module.
“With an orbit of about 90 minutes, Mini-EUSO records all space and atmospheric objects and events within sight, including UV emissions from night-earth, transient luminous events, meteors, space debris and more,” explained Marco Ricci, lead researcher at Laboratori Nazionali di Frascati INFN and INFN Country Manager for Collaboration EUSO SPB2 Italia. “The final scientific objective is to produce a high-resolution map of the Earth in the UV range (300-400nm), which is expected to significantly advance research on cosmic rays, but also serve as an important experiment for future space missions.”
According to Ricci, the impact of 3D printing on this project has been transformational.
“Using Stratasys FDM 3D printing throughout the production of the Mini-EUSO’s mechanical structure enabled us to reduce the overall cost of the project by a factor of ten, as well as save us around a whole year of development time. It’s an incredible outcome for us that I have to say I never expected from 3D printing,” he says.
Producing the mechanical structure of Mini-EUSO presented several challenges. Most notably, the team needed a material that could meet the stringent certification requirements of the aerospace industry and the ISS, as well as bear the mechanical stress and vibrations of a rocket launch.