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ESA and D-Orbit to send student-designed 3D printed component to space

Students from the Politecnico di Milano won a redesign challenge for a spacecraft part

Students from the Politecnico di Milano have redesigned a spacecraft component using 3D printing. The part will ultimately be installed aboard the new D-Orbit ION MK2 spacecraft and launched into space next August. The component was designed as part of the Italian university’s Additive Manufacturing for Space and Aerospace Applications course.

The part in question—which was selected as the winner of an ESA- and Politecnico of Milano-led redesign competition—is a component that connects the reaction wheels for control of the ION Cubesat Carrier. The carrier is an updated version of a small spacecraft designed by satellite system company D-Orbit which is responsible for the last mile delivery and positioning of CubeSat satellites.

Notably, the newer version of the spacecraft was realized through a close collaboration between D-Orbit and ESA, which will use the technology in its Clean Space initiative for in-orbit servicing and active debris removal.

Redesign competition

The student-led teams were tasked with minimizing the weight of the redesigned support while still complying with the mechanical requirements of the structure (including static assessment and modal analysis). Further, the teams had to think about how to optimize the manufacturability of the part.

D-Orbit ESA Politecnico di Milano

In the end, the winning team—consisting of Matteo Almondo, Davide Arnaboldi, Dario Corti and Simone Iovenitti—won the competition by achieving the most drastic weight reduction (65% lower compared to the original component) while meeting all the mechanical and printability requirements. As a result, the 3D printed part will be mounted aboard D-Orbit’s ION MK2 spacecraft which is scheduled to launch into space in August 2020.

“Designing a component that will go in space is something that few years ago would have been just a dream,” the team said in response to its win. “Thanks to the collaboration between Politecnico of Milan, ESA and D-Orbit this has become reality! The best experience in the project was to learn how to work in a team. Each one of us has a different background and skills, to put them together was the key to success.”

A word from the panel

Tommaso Ghidini, Head of the Structures, Mechanisms and Materials Division at ESA and professor of Additive Manufacturing for Space and Aerospace Applications, commented on the win at a final presentation day that was held at the Department of Mechanical Engineering:

“The part selected for challenging the students’ engineering creativity was particularly relevant this year. First, the element has the crucial function of holding the reaction wheels, allowing every spacecraft to manoeuvre in space. Moreover, this particular component will fly on a mission cleaning the orbits close to Earth from the un-operational satellites and debris in the frame of a very noble program of the European Space Agency, called Clean Space.”

The final presentation day was also attented by professor Bianca Colosimo, who said: “All seven groups of students and PhD Candidates were engaged in a real case-study that allowed them to measure-up with the complete process of Additive Manufacturing technologies. We have now successfully concluded the second edition of the course, which will be among our educational offer also for A.Y 2019-20, with Tommaso Ghidini as Visiting Professor.”

Finally, Lorenzo Ferrario of D-Orbit commented on the winning team’s work: “We have been extremely happy to take part in the project as test-case. We were really impressed by the quality of the results of the various project groups and were honored to take part in the judging committee. We at D-Orbit are strong supporters of the transition of the industry into additive manufacturing, as we enjoy the freedom this novel technology gives us during our design process. We look forward to continuing the collaboration with Politecnico di Milano and ESA on the topic.”

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault moved from her home of Montreal, Canada to the Netherlands in 2014 to pursue a master’s degree in Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam. It was during her time in Amsterdam that she became acquainted with 3D printing technology and began writing for a local additive manufacturing news platform. Now based in France, Tess has over two and a half years experience writing, editing and publishing additive manufacturing content with a particular interest in women working within the industry. She is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM industry.

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