Additively manufactured RF circuit sent into space

Thursday, 01 April, 2021 | Supplied by: Nano Dimension

Nano Dimension, an additively manufactured electronics (AME)/printed electronics (PE) provider, has announced that its integrated RF circuit has been flown to the International Space Station (ISS) for space effects studies. The project will provide a systematic analysis of an additively manufactured single board for radio frequency (RF) space systems, especially for nanosatellites, and will communicate with a ground-based satellite tracking system at Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University, Florida.

The circuit was designed and integrated by L3Harris, a leader in the development of RF circuits for satellites and communications systems. In recent years, research to develop these circuits and systems used for conveying information such as data, video and voice across long distances has focused on improving mobility and performance.

The primary purpose of the new project is to demonstrate the viability of using new technologies, such as multi-level/multi-material AMEs, which use 3D inkjet printer-based technologies to produce monolithic RF communication systems for use in space. It is the first systematic experiment by L3Harris and Nano Dimension aiming to analyse the RF properties of additively manufactured high-performance electronic devices (Hi-PEDs) in a space environment.

Nano Dimension fabricated the single RF board using its proprietary additively manufactured electronics process in the DragonFly LDM system. The board includes the antenna, the electronic traces for mounting all the functional components and the signal ground plane. The communications device was designed by L3Harris to operate at 2.4 GHz and to be integrated into the MISSE module and launch. This device will be tested at three program points: pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight.

The hardware will fly in low Earth orbit (LEO) environment for six months on the ISS, which will provide scientists with a better understanding of how AME technology endures in various space environments. Low Earth orbit, a region some 2000 km above the planet, is home to the ISS, as well as a large number of communications satellites, all of which utilise RF communications systems. The possibility of using AME technology for these RF systems had arisen in the past, as it offers several advantages, including the ability to produce low weight, high performance electronic devices, rapid development time and the ability to fabricate complex shapes and systems that traditional manufacturing cannot.

“Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, is playing a critical role in advancing the development and applications of small and nano satellites and the overall LEO economy,” said Dr Arthur Paolella, senior scientist for the Space and Airborne Systems segment of L3Harris. “The applications of 3D printing are broad, touching almost every aspect of research, design and manufacturing.

“The major objective of this project is to fly an experiment consisting of an integrated communications circuit fabricated by additive manufacturing and analyse the RF properties of those materials in a space environment. The communications system now on the ISS went through extensive testing in order to prepare it for the mission. Nano Dimension’s contribution to this project was extremely important, as their additively manufactured capability is technologically advanced and superior to existing technologies.”

“This project has been a significant opportunity to qualify our additive manufacturing technology for space applications by fabricating a fully integrated communications board enabled by the multi-material and multi-layer technology of our DragonFly LDM system,” added Dr Jaim Nulman, Nano Dimension’s Chief Technology Officer. “The collaboration with L3Harris has increased the technological readiness of our system towards the TR-9 level, which is the highest technology readiness level that indicates the capability for volume deployment in a LEO environment.”

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