3D Systems helps Fleet Space make patch antennas for satellites

patch antennas

3D Systems has announced a new collaboration with Fleet Space Technologies which has led to the production of innovative RF patch antennas for use on their Alpha satellite constellation.

The combination of Fleet Space Technologies’ unique design along with the expertise of 3D Systems’ Application Innovation Group (AIG) allowed them to architect a complete additive manufacturing solution – which includes process development and bridge production on its DMP Flex 350 – enabling the companies to move from Fleet Space’s existing RF patch design to small batch production in just three weeks.

Fleet Space Technologies is bringing a DMP Flex 350 printer into service at their headquarters in Beverley, Adelaide allowing the company to bring production of its patch antennas in-house. The printer will be used to create RF patch antennas for each of the Alpha satellites operating in a constellation in low earth orbit as part of Fleet Space Technologies’ ExoSphere initiative for mining exploration with minimal environmental impact. 

Fleet Space Technologies’ engineering team designed the antenna to meet size, weight, and performance requirements while minimising the need for post-processing. The team knew that the only way the geometry of this patch antenna design could be realised is through additive manufacturing. 3D Systems’ AIG developed print processes to produce the antenna on its DMP Flex 350 printer in two different materials – LaserForm AlSi10Mg and Al6061-RAM2.

The unique vacuum chamber architecture of the DMP Flex 350, which maintains a low oxygen environment (<25 ppm), was critical. Not only is argon gas consumption heavily reduced, but the vacuum chamber architecture also produces a good surface finish with fine feature detail which minimises signal losses. Additionally, the DMP Flex 350 also includes 3DXpert software which supports every step of the additive manufacturing workflow from design to post-processing, to quickly and efficiently transition from a 3D model to successfully printed parts.

The team is able to achieve fast and cost-effective production of 55 RF patch antennas per build on the DMP Flex 350. Having the DMP Flex 350 solution on-site will also provide Fleet Space Technologies with the ability to additively manufacture structural components that were not previously available. 

“Our work with Fleet Space Technologies is yet another example of how 3D Systems helps our aerospace customers accelerate innovation and de-risk their additive manufacturing application development,” 3D Systems vice president, Aerospace & Defense Dr Michael Shepard said.

“We do this by partnering with customers to provide an application solution with the right hardware, materials, software, and services for their needs. In this case, we’ve been able to help Fleet Space Technologies bring a qualified production process for their satellite hardware in-house in a very short amount of time.” 

Fleet Space Technologies founder and CEO, Flavia Tata Nardini, said the Alpha constellation represents a significant leap forward in Fleet’s mission to unlock the potential of truly global connectivity, creating global benefits for applications like making the search for critical minerals more sustainable and viable.

“To achieve this, we constantly strive to find more ways to manufacture our technology to deliver exceptional quality at scale and in a way that is economically viable,” Nardini said.

“Together with 3D Systems’ AIG, we are unlocking the remarkable potential of additive manufacturing at our world-class facility in Adelaide, South Australia. This technology will enable our people to create the production processes that will deliver on Fleet’s ambition to launch more than 140 low earth orbit satellites in the Alpha constellation.” 

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