3D-printed ‘AlbaPods’ deploy satellites into orbit after SpaceX launch


Scottish aerospace company Alba Orbital has announced the successful use of its PocketQube launchers to launch several miniature satellites into orbit.

3D printed entirely from CRP Technology’s Windform XT 2.0 composite, Alba Orbital’s low-cost AlbaPods are designed for easy access to launching small satellites into space. With that in mind, five of those launchers have now been boosted into orbit by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, where they have then deployed thirteen PocketQube devices on courses that will see them engage in various research missions.

“Congratulations to Alba Orbital and all the teams that flew with them, for all their hard work,” said Franco Cevolini, CEO and CTO of CRP Technology. “We are very proud to be part of it, as a supplier of materials and technologies that are integrated and proven in space!”

“The successful mission once again demonstrates Windform’s extreme value for high-performance, rugged and mission-critical applications.”

Tom Walkinshaw, CEO of Alba Orbital, during the integration phase of the PocketQubes in the 3D printed deployers. Photo via Alba Orbital.

The AlbaPod reinforced by Windform

Glasgow-based Alba Orbital is a company that aims to become a UK hub to help nascent satellite projects get off the ground. To achieve this, the company not only offers its support to the innovators behind these PocketQubes, but develops and supplies its own platforms and parts to private companies, universities and space agencies around the world.

In addition to its own Unicorn-2 satellites, Alba Orbital also markets services based on the AlbaPod, a deployer it says can drop devices into low Earth orbit (LEO) for as little as $100,000. To keep these launchers so inexpensive and accessible, while building them tough enough to withstand the rigors of space, the company had to refine its production process, including embracing 3D printing.

One of the ways the company has integrated the technology into its deployer’s manufacturing workflow is through a long-standing partnership with CRP Technology. In 2020, the materials developer and service provider revealed that Alba Orbital had begun using Windform XT 2.0 to build its AlbaPods, in a way that produced accurate and durable prototypes, as well as functional parts.

CRP Technology’s carbon fiber reinforced composite is also rated “HB” under the UL 94 flammability test, meaning it can be used near open flames from thrusters or thrusters. As a result, it’s no surprise that its developer was able to work with Alba Orbital to 3D print a launcher with such reliability and precision, that AlbaPod is planning three more LEO launches later in 2022.

The AlbaPod 2.0 3D printed on a vibration table undergoing pre-flight certification.  Photo via Alba Orbital.
The AlbaPod 2.0 3D printed on a vibration table undergoing pre-flight certification. Photo via Alba Orbital.

SpaceX launch of Alba Orbital

Launched Jan. 13, 2022, Alba Orbital’s “Alba Cluster 3 & 4” mission may have been the third of its kind to be facilitated by SpaceX’s rideshare program, a service in which the company offers to earn payloads of up to 200 kg into orbit for $1 million, but was the first to fly via the Falcon 9 Transporter-3, and also saw the largest AlbaPod cluster deployed to date.

During the mission, the Transporter-3 fired a total of 105 commercial and government micro and nano-satellites from a launch pad at Cape Canaveral, before deploying them 326 miles above the east coast of Florida. . Once they reached sun-synchronous polar orbit, a group of 5 AlbaPods helped propel 13 of the selected PocketQubes into position, four of which broke new ground in research.

One of these pioneers, the “TARTAN-ARTIBEUS-1”, was developed as part of an open source project at Carnegie Mellon University, with the aim of introducing the first battery-less, intermittent and orbital. The launch of PocketQube “GRIZU-263a” and the pico-satellite “PION-BR1” marked the launch of the Turkish and Brazilian start-up PION Labs.

Notably, among other launches, “UNICORNs 2A, 2D & 2E” marked Alba Orbital’s first launch of an Earth observation satellite designed to capture images of the planet at night, while teams such as TU Delft, Ariel University, AMSAT-EA, Hydra Space, Innova Space and the European Space Agency have also launched their projects.

Since launch, CRP Technology says these satellites have begun beaming their findings back to Earth, making the rideshare mission a success. More broadly, the mission also marked SpaceX’s second of 2022, and it has since launched two more Starlink payloads into orbit, a launch rate that Jonathan Hofeller, vice president of Starlink and the company’s commercial sales, only. can only be accelerated in the future.

“We have well over 100,000 subscribers, both on the consumer and business side,” Hofeller reportedly said during a panel discussion at Euroconsult’s annual World Satellite Business Week event in Paris. “And we’re not slowing down. We’re just starting to warm up. »

A rendering of the small Alpha satellite in LEO.  Image via Fleet Space.
Companies like Fleet Space have now incorporated 3D printing directly into the satellite production process. Image via Fleet Space.

3D print ready-to-fly satellites

Of course, 3D printing isn’t just used to create launch vehicles or thrusters, but in the manufacturing of the satellites themselves, often as a way to improve their signal relay capabilities. Late last year, Fleet Space unveiled plans to launch its 3D-printed “Alpha” satellites, devices with the necessary beamforming technology and patented antennas, to unlock greater connectivity for satellites. IoT applications.

In 2021, Airbus also revealed that it had made progress in integrating 3D printed parts into Eutelsat’s relay satellites, having installed more than 500 switch assembly arrays and multi-waveguide blocks to date. At the time, the company hailed the time and cost benefits of adopting 3D printing in their assembly, and said the resulting satellites would boost broadcast services around the world.

Looking further, companies like Thales Alenia Space have also deployed additive manufacturing in the mass production of satellites. When used in the construction of the company’s Spacebus NEO platform to manufacture custom reaction wheel mounts, the technology is said to have consolidated them into a single piece, while reducing their weight by up to 30 %.

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Featured image shows the 3D printed AlbaPod 2.0 on a vibration table being certified before flight. Photo via Alba Orbital.


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