3D printed space components for the study of lightning and space physics
Space and new technologies for the benefit of humanity. This is the driving force behind the development of the myriad of satellites that orbit the Earth, with the aim of remotely analyzing the with the aim of better understanding the Earth and the space environment surrounding it. Their important function allows us to assess the health of the planet and how humans are affecting the delicate balance of nature.
The Lightning, Atmosphere, Ionosphere and Radiation Belt (The LAIR) research team, in the department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, is mainly concerned with studying the electromagnetic effects of lightning and thunderstorms produced in the regions of the upper atmosphere, called by researchers the "near-Earth space environment".
As part of the research project CANVAS (acronym for Climatology of Anthropogenic and Natural VLF wave Activity in Space), the team is designing a CubeSat that will spend at least 6 months in orbit measuring the perturbations in the electric and magnetic fields of the Earth, in particular the Very Low Frequency (VLF) waves emitted by lightning, and understand how they can interact with the Earth's radiation belts and how they impact upper atmospheric chemistry.
CubeSats are composed of 10x10x10 cm units, called U, and are classified according to the number of Us composing the satellite. CANVAS is a 4U Cubesat with overall dimensions of 40x10x10 cm. The Cubesat’s main payload is a tool for measuring electromagnetic waves emitted by lightning discharges on the earth's surface. The instrument consists of three magnetic field sensors mounted on a holder, which ensures that the three sensors are orthogonal.
The research group has been driven to find alternative solutions to conventional methods for the manufacturing of the holder because it has very particular geometries and must respect strict mass and volume limitations.
“Our mass budget is 274 g at the most for the holder. The entire instrument needs to be less than 500 g, so 274 g for the holder gives us 141 g for the search coils, 10 g for the preamplifier board and wiring, and a 15% mass margin.” says Vicki Knoer, researcher in the project.
“While we should be well within that limit, we'd still like to keep the mass as low as reasonably possible.”
In order to meet these requirements, The LAIR group, thanks to the support of Roboze, the worldwide leader in super polymers and composite 3D printing technology, has optimized the design and produced the parts printed in PEEK (Polyether ether ketone), including the holder for the CANVAS magnetic field sensors. PEEK is a high-performance polymer capable of replacing metal, thanks to its extraordinary mechanical properties and its high thermal and chemical resistance.
“The consultancy received by the Roboze's Application Engineering department allowed us to meet the requirements of the project. The Roboze team guided us in choosing the most suitable material and in the geometric optimization for the benefit of weights and dimensions. We are very satisfied with the results we are achieving,” says V.Knoer.
"It was an honor and a real privilege to collaborate with the LAIR group on this project." Says Enea Sacco, Application Engineer at Roboze. "We have immediately found the right alchemy thanks also to the strong spirit of collaboration of the group, always aimed at improving and acquiring new technologies and skills. The LAIR group is absolutely one of the pioneers in the use of additive technology in this field and giving our support to the realization of their mission makes me extremely proud."
The project started in spring 2019, and after the first validation phases, it will see the launch into space in the first half of 2022.