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“What’s Next” Pioneering Expandable Space Structures

Updated: Dec 29, 2022

  1. Problem: The development of deployable space structures was hampered by the time and financial constraints of conventional manufacturing.

  2. Solution: Using the AON M2+, additive manufacturing is used to create test fixtures, manufacturing jigs, and end-use carbon fiber PEEK composite tooling.

  3. Cost & Time Savings: $4000+ and 4-6 weeks per composite mold.

The Customer:

With a plethora of new space-based businesses and missions to other planetary bodies, the next space race is picking up steam. Escape from earth's gravity with space structures big enough to enable next-generation space travel and extraterrestrial colonization is the key engineering issue at the center of this race.

The task is being taken on by the aerospace company Opterus Research and Development, Inc. of Loveland, Colorado. Opterus creates huge composite space constructions, which can accommodate incredibly small payloads and later expand in orbit, in place of larger spacecraft.

For instance, Opterus can compress Trussed Collapsible Tubular Masts (TCTM), 40m (131.2 ft) strong structural supports, into the size of a shoebox. Opterus, with a mass of only 6.5 kg, offers a practical and affordable way to launch big solar arrays, reflectors, antennas, and other structures into orbit.

A 40m (131.2 ft) rollable carbon fiber structural support boom is contained in a deployer prototype and is later deployed in space to reduce payload mass and size.

The Challenge

Opterus is addressing issues for which there are no existing answers by developing a new type of design. Extensive testing, research & development, and specialized tooling are needed for every new project.

When compared to the typical spring steels utilized in prior art deployable space structures, Opterus' high-strength composite (HSC) materials offer 2x higher bending stresses, 5x bulk reduction, 8x stiffness, and 20x more dimensional stability.

Conventional composite tooling, which cost thousands of dollars and required weeks to months for each iteration, offered limited design complexity for the production of HSCs. Desktop 3D printers, on the other hand, were quick and inexpensive but only good for light-duty, low heat applications.

The Solution

In order to create low-cost, full-scale composite tooling and develop their designs, Opterus' engineering team used high temperature 3D printing. The engineering team searched and discovered the AON M2+, which has a sizable, heated build volume of 450 x 450 x 565 mm and open access to engineering-grade and high-performance polymers.

Opterus makes composite molds for thousands of dollars less and weeks faster using the AON M2+ and carbon fiber peek. With a low coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) and the capacity to tolerate curing temperatures that can approach 180°C, CF PEEK's characteristics were perfect for the application. The mold needs only a little light sanding, J-B Weld, or Teflon tape to be ready for prepreg layup.

A deployable carbon fiber antenna is created using high temperature 3D printed CF PEEK composite molds attached to a larger graphite composite mold.

What’s Next

Opterus wants to market the next generation of high-performance space structures using their technology and manufacturing method, including microsatellite antennas, solar arrays up to 10,000 square meters (6.2 square miles), solar sails, and megawatt solar arrays produced in space.

The company is positioned to achieve initial space flight heritage for unique, advanced deployable spacecraft structures by the mid of 2024, including deployable solar array structures for small and large spacecraft, deployable parabolic reflectors, and composite rollable booms. These accomplishments will contribute to Opterus' portfolio of products currently in space and will build on years of innovative technology demonstration and development.

For more information on AON3D solution, please contact your local Dynagraph representative.

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