Montana State University

First MSU satellite made with 3-D technology to launch today

November 3, 2015 -- Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service

MSU’s PrintSat is the first to use 3-D printed polymer technology to build the major structural element of a satellite and its mechanisms. Photo courtesy of MSU Space Science and Engineering Laboratory.Nathan Fite, former MSU graduate student, worked on PrintSat. Fite completed a masterââ¬â¢s degree in science and engineering management at MSU working in Space Science and Engineering Laboratory.Photo courtesy of MSU Space Science and Engineering Laboratory.

MSU’s PrintSat is the first to use 3-D printed polymer technology to build the major structural element of a satellite and its mechanisms. Photo courtesy of MSU Space Science and Engineering Laboratory.

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571

A tiny satellite developed by a handful of space professionals and Montana State University students that will test 3-D printing technology in spacecraft will launch into orbit Tuesday.

The satellite, called PrintSat, utilizes 3-D printing technology, which is also known as Additive Manufacturing. The satellite’s mission is to determine if the technology can be used in larger spacecraft to lower manufacturing costs. The launch may be viewed on the Spaceflight Now website.

The PrintSat, which is a type of CubeSat and is about the size of a one quart juice box and weighing less than one kilogram, could have big implications for future construction of satellites, said David Klumpar, director of MSU’s Space Science and Engineering Laboratory.

While previous satellites have been milled of standardized metal that is cut down and formed, the students and staff that work in MSU’s SSEL started with powdered polymers and a 3-D printer and built-up the satellite in a process called additive manufacturing.

Klumpar said NASA has flown spacecraft with a few “bits and pieces of 3-D printed materials, but PrintSat is the first to use 3-D printed polymer technology to build the major structural element of the satellite and its mechanisms. He explained that the 4-inch cube PrintSat will have a sensor on board that measures space radiation as well as an experiment that characterizes a new solar cell technology.

“From the data we collect we hope to learn how well this material, and the process used to manufacture the satellite, holds up to the space environment,” Klumpar said. “If the outcome is positive, additive manufacturing could significantly lower the cost and reduce development time of much larger satellites.”

Another first is that the rocket that carries the satellite is the first to be launched from Hawaii. Klumpar said the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, has been used for sub-orbital flights, but Tuesday’s launch will be the first time that it has been used to launch a satellite into orbit.

According to , the launch managed by the Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space office, the will carry 13 small spacecraft – ranging in size from a juice box to a shoe box --into orbit aboard a Super Strypi launcher, a low-cost three-stage vehicle developed by Sandia National Laboratories with assistance from the University of Hawaii. In addition to MSU’s PrintSat, the mission will include eight small CubeSats developed by Ames Research Center in California that all carry an MSU-built science instrument that will help test whether networks of small satellites could do jobs larger spacecraft do today.

Klumpar said the PrintSat is the ninth satellite for which MSU has played a major role. In all, about 500 students have gone through MSU’s SSEL in its 15 years of building satellites. Currently, there are about 20 students enrolled in the MSU program.

“(Our first goal) is getting students --from undergraduate through grad level --intimately involved in the hands-on process of designing, building, testing and operating space hardware,” he said.

“Secondly, our students play a huge role in taking what they have learned in the classroom and applying it to a real-world, true-to-life sophisticated problem. And thirdly, the end-goal is to have our work in the space environment and orbiting around Earth.”

Klumpar said that as a result of their involvement with real satellites, MSU students have an opportunity to practice their high tech careers and hone their learning before graduation.

“That puts our students right at the top of the stack of resumes when they apply for a job,” he said.

Klumpar had been in Hawaii awaiting the launch with Nathan Fite who worked on the satellite while an MSU graduate student. Fite currently works at Tyvak Nanosatellite Systems in Irvine, Calif.

“We have a lot riding on this launch,” Klumpar said. “We have all of our fingers and toes crossed on this one.”

David Klumpar (406) 994-6169,