Last December, the Zeus-1 nano spacecraft reached orbit aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Developed by Singapore space venture Qosmosys, Zeus-1 is an evaluation platform for promising in-space technology experiments and has already begun testing breakthrough solar cell technology from Airbus. But that’s not all; the spacecraft also carried the first locally 3D-printed part to reach orbit, a satellite test container. The component was fitted into the Zeus-1 to hold 50 uniquely-designed works of art engraved on gold-anodized plaques.
This highly anticipated milestone results from a collaboration between Qosmosys and local companies NuSpace, a defense and space manufacturing startup, and Creatz3D. As one of the leading 3D printing solution providers in Singapore, Creatz3D is not just a reseller of ceramics, metals, bioprinting, plastic systems, and software but has also broadened its offerings to provide services for high-value applications in a wide range of industries, like medical and aerospace.
As its latest achievement, the 3D-printed satellite test container was required to have a snug fit so it could be housed within the Zeus-1 satellite holder. To make this possible, Creatz3D assessed the computer-aided (CAD) file given by NuSpace to tweak the wall thickness from what was suggested to get the correct dimensions for the final output of the required part. On top of this, the company needed to ensure that the final output remained resistant to changes in environmental conditions.
According to NuSpace CEO and co-founder Ng Zhen Ning, “the proposed original design was a sheet material, which could cost up to $4,000 to $5,000 and requiring a long lead time of at least three weeks for a machine manufactured component to reach us, whereas 3D-printed parts took only two to three days.”
Prior to 3D printing, the usual go-to method would be CNC and metal sheet forming an aluminum case for the required satellite test container, which consists of complicated processes such as folding and sawing of produced parts. As a result, Creatz3D described the process as too expensive.
Instead, with additive manufacturing identified as an essential enabler for reducing launch costs, Creatz3D’s involvement in this project contributed towards Singapore’s goal of becoming a regional hub for advanced manufacturing technologies and attests to the potential of unlocking further usage possibilities for 3D printing and space tech industries in the country.
To create the satellite test container, Creatz3D advised that the best 3D printing material was the PEKK-based thermoplastic Antero 800NA, which has excellent mechanical properties, chemical resistance, and low outgassing properties.
Outgassing is a challenge for equipment used in space, which occurs when changes in surrounding temperature and pressure cause the equipment to release a gas that is dissolved or trapped within the material, rendering the space equipment inoperable. Thereby, Antero 800NA was pertinent to ensure the operability of the satellite and its required test container, with anticipations of a drastic surge in external temperature from as low as -14⁰C to as high as 40⁰C upon the launch of Zeus-1.
Once the material was decided on, a short segment of the part was first printed for a test fit with NuSpace. The final output was a 3D-printed satellite test container that fitted perfectly. Within the printed component are the fifty artworks that are part of Qosmosys’ project Godspeed, which celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the launch of Pioneer-10, an American space probe launched in 1972 that completed the first mission to the planet Jupiter and carried a famous golden plate designed as a message to extraterrestrial life (shown in the image below).
Flying past Jupiter on December 4, 1973, the probe ventured farther than any spacecraft before it. Pioneer 10’s final signal was received in January 2003, and it’s now heading out of the solar system in the direction of the red star Aldebaran in the Taurus constellation, and will take more than two million years to reach it. The informative golden plaque it contains is the brainchild of Carl Sagan, who wanted any alien civilization who might encounter the craft to know who made it and how to contact them (engraved in it is the time and place of origin). Believed to be among the most precious human relics in space, the small metal plaque depicts a naked man and woman drawn in relation to the spacecraft.
At the time, Carl Sagan said “it will be the oldest artefact of mankind, a piece of art, on board a marvellous spacecraft, that will still exist in a billion years from now.”
To commemorate the famous Pioneer-10 artwork, Qosmosys commissioned artists around the globe to design 50 works of art that were then engraved in gold-anodized plaques and loaded onboard the 3D-printed container on the Zeus-1 satellite. Additionally, each plate was turned into an NFT (non-fungible token), creating exclusive and rare collectibles for space fans. This incredible tribute to scientists and artists who have shaped our humanity for so long is unique and establishes a link between the golden age of space exploration and the new dawn of deep space missions.