The electrical circuit printed on the Zortrax Endureal 3D printer will be tested on board the WISA Woodsat CubeSat probe, which is scheduled to start at the end of 2021. Zortrax is working with the support of the European Space Agency to develop a composite 3D printing technology that enables the production of space-ready parts with built-in polymer-based electrical circuits. Now an ESA-designed functional demonstrator made using this technology will be tested in flight in low Earth orbit.
ESA was tasked with increasing the load capacity of WoodSat and asked Zortrax to manufacture one of the designed parts using PEEK – one of the strongest polymers in the world and a unique electrically conductive PEEK.
The demonstrator circuit that will be tested in orbit is made of two mixtures of this material – the body and cover of the demonstrator are made of the standard Z-PEEK material commercially available for the Zortrax Endureal 3D printer, while the electrically conductive paths are made of an electrically conductive PEEK mixture enriched with nanotubes carbon and graphene nanoparticles, which was developed and supplied by ESA.
The purpose of the demonstrator is to test how exposure to the space environment will affect the functionality of the circuit during operation.
WISA Woodsat is a unique mission focused on testing new materials and breakthrough manufacturing technologies in the space industry. Several parts of the CubeSat are made of birch wood with a special type of coating to protect it from the influence of the space environment. The satellite is to be launched aboard the partially recyclable Electron rocket, large components of which are made of lightweight carbon composites. We believe that innovative materials and additive manufacturing will make space more accessible and more accessible to companies and scientists around the world, and Zortrax has an important role to play in shaping this future.
Mariusz Babula, president of Zortrax
The Zortrax Endureal 3D printer used by Zortrax to print a composite circuit demonstrator for WISA Woodsat is an industrial machine designed to process high-performance polymers such as Z-PEEK, which are widely used in space and aviation.
The dual extrusion system of a 3D printer is usually used to print a model with one polymer and easily removable support structures with another. For printing composite parts from two PEEK blends, this system has been adapted to work interchangeably with two model materials – in this case two PEEK blends.
Achieving print quality and precision sufficient to produce flight-ready parts was a milestone for the Zortrax R&D team. The 3D printed circuit boards that were used for ground testing almost a year ago were relatively large and their geometry was simple. Over the course of the year, we developed the ability to 3D print the circuit, which was many times smaller and had to include screw holes, cable routing, and polymeric conductive paths, while ensuring that it would survive the launch phase and the conditions in space. All this in a device the size of a postage stamp. Our advances in other similar projects make Endureal the backbone of Zortrax solutions targeted at the space industry.
Jacek Krywko, Leader of Advanced 3D Printing Solutions at Zortrax
In this and all other space projects currently carried out at Zortrax, the RnD team works with standard Endureal 3D printers available on the market. This means that composite 3D printing capabilities and other features designed specifically for ESA will be made available to all customers who have purchased Endureal 3D printers as software upgrades as the technology reaches production level.
Source: Zortrax press materials