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3D printing for space communications

A rendering of 3D printed nano-satellite that is scheduled for launch next year, in 2022. Image credit: Fleet Space Technologies

As I had the opportunity to mention in previous posts the whole area of satellite communications is getting ready for a revolution. A number of companies are already launching low satellites in low orbits. This has the advantage of lowering the cost of launch and decreasing the power required to irradiate a given area. Obviously the lower the orbit the more the satellite move with respect to the Earth  and you need more satellites in orbit to cover the planet. Why we didn’t use these type of satellites before? Basically because of the cost involved in manufacturing a satellite and the difficulty in providing seamless handover (it is so much easy to have a geo-stationary satellite covering a big area continuously than managing a multitude of them that keep moving).

Both these issues have been solved by technology evolution. Today handing over the communication in a satellite constellation is no longer a big issue and the cost of manufacturing a satellite has gone down significantly. Being placed in a low orbit they can establish communications using low power and everything can get smaller, so much small that these satellites have become nano-satellites.

Now a company in Australia has found a way to further decrease the manufacturing cost using 3D printing technology. Fleet Space Technology is an Adelaide (Australia) based start up that has announced their first 3D printed satellite, Alpha, will be launched next year. Connectivity will become available in 2026 (you need to have many of those satellites to create a communication fabric that can deliver services).

The satellites will using special “intelligent” antennas, beam-forming technology, that are able to deliver an effective signal using low power transmission.

The company already has 6 satellites in orbit and is aiming at a constellation of 140 satellites. Now they have announced their first satellite manufactured using 3D printing technology (this is the one that will be launched next year). They are betting on the increasing need for IoT to communicate using ad-hoc private networks. On ground they are foreseen the use of a hub able to create a local network connecting up to 1,500 IoT (LoRaWAN technology) and acting as a gateway towards the satellite constellation.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.