Alba’s 3D printed deployers were used to launch four more PocketQubes

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Alba Orbital, a Scotland-based PocketQube satellite manufacturer, has successfully completed its second launch mission of 2022 with the help of its 3D printed nanosatellite deployers.

While hitchhiking on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, the company launched four of its PocketQube (Alba Cluster X) satellites from Pad A at Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1, located on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. The cluster was launched in early May as part of Rocket Lab’s “There And Back Again” mission, which involved a total of 34 satellites put into sun-synchronous orbit.

To distribute the four PocketQubes in space, Alba used its fully 3D printed AlbaPod v2 satellite deployer. The system was produced by CRP Technology and is made of the company’s own Windform XT 2.0 material, a carbon fiber reinforced composite.

“We are thrilled to be Alba Orbital’s mission partner again,” said Peter Beck, Founder and CEO of Rocket Lab. “The Alba Orbital team has proven that incredibly small satellites can perform very well and deliver tangible information and services to Earth at a fraction of the cost of traditional satellites. Making access to space faster, more easier and more affordable is a mission we share, so we’re excited to make this possible with Electron.

Alba Orbital’s 3D printed AlbaPod deployer is attached to the launch stage of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket. Photo via Alba Orbital.

Windform XT 2.0 and the AlbaPod v2

Designed for use in laser powder bed fusion, Windform XT 2.0 is part of CRP Technology’s Windform TOP-LINE composite line. The material is based on the original Windform XT offering but features improved mechanical properties such as an 8% increase in tensile strength and a 46% increase in elongation at break.

Thanks to its carbon fiber reinforcements, Windform XT 2.0 can be used to 3D print durable prototypes as well as functional end-use parts. CRP Technology has classified the material as “HB” under the UL 94 flammability test, which means it provides the heat resistance and flame retardance characteristics needed for many high temperature aerospace applications. This includes parts near open flames from thrusters and thrusters.

In 2020, Alba Orbital began using Windform XT 2.0 to 3D print their AlbaPod v2 deployers, due to the excellent mix of mechanical and thermal properties of the material. The shell, ejection mechanism, door assembly and other deployer components have been redesigned for 3D printing. The company then managed to integrate nine of its PocketQube satellites into the AlbaPod v2 ahead of the launch of the Cluster 3 mission in December 2020.

More recently, in 2022, Alba launched five of its AlbaPods into orbit as part of SpaceX’s rideshare program. The systems have deployed thirteen PocketQube satellites in space, where they will be used for various research missions.

Other composites in the Windform material line include Windform RS and Windform SP, which were recently used to 3D print an athletic track shoe. Named Pleko, the shoes were designed by CRP Technology with the help of Venetian middle-distance runner Miro Buroni.

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.

Night Light Data Tracking

The latest set of Alba Cluster X satellites included one of Alba’s Unicorn-2 PocketQubes, plus three additional PocketQubes for Alba’s customer: ACME weather app developer AtronOmatic. Each of the four satellites is currently deployed in its own unique orbit approximately 500 km above the Earth’s surface.

The Unicorn-2, in particular, carries a nighttime optical imaging system capable of monitoring light pollution levels around the world. This nightlight data should provide information on various human activities such as armed conflicts, disasters, urbanization, fisheries, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The nanosatellite has already called home on its first pass.

Additionally, this launch was the first time Rocket Lab was able to capture the first stage of its Electron launch vehicle in the air using parachutes and a helicopter. The firm hopes one day to see the Electron become the first small reusable orbital satellite launcher.

“It is a pleasure to work with Rocket Lab again on this exciting mission,” said Alba Orbital CEO and Founder Tom Walkinshaw. “We are delighted to launch the first of our imaging constellation dedicated to nighttime Earth imaging aboard the Electron rocket. From day one, Alba Orbital’s mission has always been to democratize access to space, and Rocket Lab has demonstrated that they are wholeheartedly committed to the same vision.

RocketLab's Electron has been deployed to its launchpad for the first time (pictured).  Photo via RocketLab.
Rocket Lab’s Electron Rocket on its launch pad. Photo via Rocket Lab.

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Featured image shows Alba Orbital’s 3D-printed AlbaPod deployer attached to the booster stage of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket. Photo via Alba Orbital.

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