Researchers Create Satellite Sensor With 3D Printing

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) created the first plasma sensor for a fully-constructed satellite using a 3D printing approach to orbiting a spacecraft.

These plasma sensors, also known as retarding potential analyzers (RPAs), are used by satellites to determine the chemical composition and energy distribution of ions in the atmosphere.

Compared to traditional methods, these 3D printed sensors can be manufactured in a matter of days for tens of dollars. Because of their low cost and fast production process, these sensors are ideal for CubeSats.

CubeSats are small, inexpensive, low-powered and lightweight satellites often used for communications and environmental monitoring in the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

The researchers developed RPA using a glass-ceramic material that is more durable than traditional sensor materials such as silicon and thin-film coatings.

Using glass-ceramics in a manufacturing process developed for 3D printing with plastics, the sensors are fabricated into complex shapes that can withstand the temperature changes that spacecraft would encounter in low-Earth orbit.

“Some people think that when you print something in 3D, you have to accept reduced performance. However, our research has shown that this is not always the case,” said principal investigator at Microsystems Technology Laboratories (MTL). Luis Fernando Velasquez-GarcĂ­a said. at MIT and senior author of this paper.

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