Satellite constellation antennas developed using laser additive manufacturing

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The constellation will operate in low earth orbit to perform mining exploration with minimal environmental impact. (Image: Shutterstock/NicoElNino)

US additive manufacturing (AM) firm 3D Systems has collaborated with Australian space communications firm Fleet Space Technologies (FST), to jointly develop 3D-printable radio-frequency (RF) patch antennas for FST’s Alpha satellite constellation. 

The constellation will operate in low earth orbit as part of FST’s ExoSphere initiative for mining exploration with minimal environmental impact.

Both process development and bridge production for the new antennas were carried out using a DMP Flex 350 printer from 3D Systems, one of which is now being brought into service at FST’s headquarters in Beverley, Adelaide. 

As a result, the firm can now achieve cost-effective production of the patch antennas in-house, achieving a rate of 55 RF patch antennas per build. 

FST’s 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 was through AM. 3D Systems’ Application Innovation Group (AIG) then developed print processes to produce the antenna on its printer in two different materials LaserForm AlSi10Mg and Al6061-RAM2.

Fleet Space Technologies can now print up to 55 RF patch antennas per build for use on its Alpha Satellite constellation (Image: 3D Systems)

The innovative vacuum chamber architecture of the DMP Flex 350, which maintains a low oxygen environment (<25 ppm), was critical to the production of the new antenna. 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.

The new antennas were designed and built using a DMP Flex 350 printer from 3D Systems (Image: 3D Systems) 

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