FADA-CATEC uses 3D printing to slim down the CHEOPS satellite
CHEOPS satellite integration (Image source: ESA)

FADA-CATEC uses 3D printing to slim down the CHEOPS satellite

The Center for Advanced Aerospace Technologies (FADA-CATEC) has collaborated with the Spanish engineering company CiTD in the design, development, and manufacture of new aerospace components through 3D printing for the European Space Agency (ESA) CHEOPS satellite.
The “CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite” (CHEOPS) – the first European Space Agency (ESA) scientific satellite to developed and manufactured in Spain – will launch in 2019 and spend at least three and a half years studying movements and characteristics of exoplanets that orbit nearby bright stars beyond the Solar System. However, without the development of additive manufacturing (AM) or “3D-printing,” CHEOPS would be too broad for integration into its Soyuz launch vehicle.

The Andalusian Foundation for Aerospace Development-managed Center for Advanced Aerospace Technologies (FADA-CATEC) and the Spanish engineering company CiTD Engineering and Technologies SL developed key parts of the mechanism that connects the CHEOPS’ solar panels to a lifting tool for orbital deployment. Due to the processes of assembly and integration, the components of this mechanism are blocked, which supposes an important satellite weight penalty.

For this reason, CiTD and FADA-CATEC developed a set of eight pieces of “bionic flight through additive manufacturing technology,” which has led to a fifty percent weight reduction and an optimization in the design of this component. The term – coined by Airbus officials regarding to 3D printed components on the A350 XWB airliner – refers to the concept of complex, almost organic-looking components printed using additive layer manufacturing. Traditional manufacturing would be too time consuming and expensive to produce “bionic flight components,” which often possess ideal strength to weight ratios.

The Andalusian technology center has not only hosted the manufacture of the pieces in its facilities, it has also supervised its inspection and verification. CiTD has been responsible for the definition and justification under the standards of ESA.

“The manufacture of this piece means a further leap in the real application of 3D printing to the aerospace sector, where our center has become an international benchmark” explains Dr. Fernando Lasagni, head of the Materials and Processes Division of FADA-CATEC, who also states that “in space, weight is a vital issue, and reducing the weight of the components of a satellite or a rocket means a significant reduction in costs and the possibility of using that same weight for another component or application.”

For Marta G. Cosio, director of the Aerospace Division of CiTD, “3D printing allows us freer and more optimized designs, capable of giving the best solution in terms of mass and delivery times.”

CiTD offers design and analysis engineering solutions for systems and structural components of the aerospace sector and because of its commitment to 3D printing, it has positioned itself as one of the most active Spanish companies in the development of aerospace flight components.

The additively manufactured components were delivered to the Spanish delegation of Airbus Defense & Space, which completed component integration in recent weeks. The satellite is in the functional and environmental testing phase, which will conclude by the end of 2018. CHEOPS will launch from the European space base of Kourou in French Guiana on a Soyuz rocket operated by Arianespace in late 2019.

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It will share the ride with a satellite that is part of the Italian Cosmo-SkyMed constellation. The two satellites will separate in turn into their own orbits soon after ascent, with CHEOPS operating in a low-Earth orbit at an altitude of 700 km.

CHEOPS will observe individual bright stars that are known to host exoplanets, in particular those in the Earth-to-Neptune size range. By targeting known planets, CHEOPS will know exactly when and where to point to catch the exoplanet as it transits across the disk of its host star. Its ability to observe multiple transits of each planet will enable scientists to achieve the high-precision transit signatures that are needed to measure the sizes of small planets.


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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.

Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at william.kucinski@sae.org.
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