NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, via Wikimedia Commons
Nasa IRIS Satellite
Aerospace advanced manufacturing research and development company Tethers Unlimited has struck a deal to develop the 3D printing of spacecraft structures with embedded radiation shielding.
The Washington state-based organisation has signed a contract with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to work on this technology. Under the Phase II Small Business Innovation research contract, Tethers will work on its patent-pending processes for creating components containing an internal layered composition of polymers and metals that is efficient at absorbing space radiation.
The Versatile Structural Radiation Shielding technology utilises the flexibility afforded to it by 3D printing to enable the rapid, cost-effective fabrication of customised parts that minimise the mass required to shield spacecraft electronics.
Chief Technologist at Tethers Nestor Noronka explained that the desire to achieve a low-cost, high-performance spacecraft system is driving many satellite developers to consider off-the-shelf consumer electronics, but such parts are more vulnerable to radiation than the expensive, hardened components that are traditionally employed for such applications.
"The VSRS technology integrates radiation shielding into the spacecraft structures so we can enable those COTS components to operate reliably while maintaining their low cost and low mass advantages," he explained.
Tethers' CEO and Chief Scientist Dr Robert Hoyt added: "The VSRS project builds upon our extensive work over the past five years adapting additive manufacturing techniques to fabricate multifunctional spacecraft structures."
Tethers has utilised these processes to create exoskeletal structures with integral multi-layer thermal insulation. Using funding from NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts scheme it is currently developing ways to fabricate spacecraft structures on orbit.
Dr Hoyt concluded: "We hope to leverage the power of additive manufacturing to enable a radical change in the way spacecraft are built, dramatically reducing costs and increasing performance for many missions."