Mitsubishi Electric Develops Technology for Freeform Printing of Satellite Antennas in Outer Space – Parabolic Arc

Manufacture and deployment in orbit of a satellite antenna in space (from left to right). (Credit: Mitsubishi Electric Corporation)

A new photoresist harnesses solar radiation for low-power vacuum 3D printing

TOKYO, May 17, 2022 – Mitsubishi Electric Corporation (TOKYO:6503) today announced that the company has developed an in-orbit additive manufacturing technology that uses photoresist and solar ultraviolet light to 3D print satellite antennas in the void outside. space. The new technology uses a newly developed liquid resin that has been custom formulated for vacuum stability. The resin allows structures to be made in space using a low-power process that uses the sun’s ultraviolet rays for light-curing.

The technology specifically addresses the challenge of outfitting small, inexpensive spacecraft buses with large structures, such as high-gain antenna reflectors, and enables the fabrication in orbit of structures that greatly exceed the dimensions of aircraft fairings. launchers. Resin-based in-orbit manufacturing is expected to make spacecraft structures thinner and lighter than conventional designs, which must withstand the stresses of launch and orbital insertion, thereby reducing both the overall weight of the satellite and start-up costs.

Spacecraft antenna designs are challenging due to their conflicting requirements for high gain, wide bandwidth, and low weight. High gain and wide bandwidth necessarily require a large aperture, but economic orbital deployment conventionally dictates that designs be lightweight and small enough to fit or fold inside a launch vehicle or launch mechanism. satellite deployment. Mitsubishi Electric’s innovative approach – resin-based in-orbit fabrication – efficiently achieves high-gain, wide-bandwidth, large-aperture antennas deployed from a lightweight, vibration-resistant launch package. By developing a 3D printer that extrudes a custom ultraviolet-curable resin formulated for vacuum, resin-based energy-efficient freeform* additive manufacturing in space is now possible.


1) 3D printer for making free-form antennas in vacuum

– The 3D printer shares antenna spacers and angle adjustment motors.

– The size of the antenna is not limited by the size of the fairing of the launch vehicle or the size of the satellite bus.

– In-orbit fabrication eliminates the need for an antenna structure that can withstand vibration and shock during launch, which is required for conventional antenna reflectors, resulting in reduced weight and thickness antenna reflectors, thus helping to reduce satellite weight and launch costs.

– Assuming the use of a 3U (100 x 100 x 300 mm) CubeSat specification, an antenna reflector with a diameter of 165 mm, which is larger than the size of the CubeSat bus, was manufactured in the air, and a gain of 23.5 dB was confirmed in the Ku band (13.5 GHz). Resin Tank Resin Extrusion Control Valve UV Shield Nozzle Rotary Axis Motor Yaw Axis Motor Linear Motor Antenna Spacer 165mm

Diagram (left) and photo (right) of the 3D printer. (Credit: Mitsubishi Electric Corporation)

2) World’s first** photoresist with suitable stability for extrusion and vacuum curing

– Commercial photoresists have low molecular weight, high vapor pressure and are not suitable for vacuum applications, where they boil and polymerize prematurely. The new ultraviolet curing resin uses a high molecular weight, low vapor pressure oligomer base blended with a non-volatile polyphenyl ether vacuum-stable plasticizer to achieve a viscosity suitable for vacuum extrusion.

– As most polymerization inhibitors require atmospheric oxygen as a cofactor to prevent premature polymerization and do not work in a vacuum, the new resin formulation uses inhibitors that are not dependent on the presence of oxygen and have a volatility close to from zero.

– When exposed to ultraviolet light, the resin polymerizes, cross-linking into a heat-resistant solid up to at least 400°C, which is beyond the maximum temperature encountered in orbit.

– The use of sunlight for polymerization and curing eliminates the need for a separate ultraviolet light source, enabling manufacturing with low energy consumption.

Mid-run printing using an ultraviolet light source in a vacuum of less than 0.2 kPa (expanded area around nozzle and rotary axis motor). (Credit: Mitsubishi Electric Corporation)

Future developments

Mitsubishi Electric’s resin-based in-orbit fabrication enables small satellites to achieve large-satellite capabilities, reducing launch costs and allowing satellite technology to be used more than ever in applications such as communication and earth observation. These expanded capabilities should enable faster delivery of satellite imagery and observational data that meets the varied needs of individuals and organizations. Going forward, Mitsubishi Electric will continue to develop technologies and solutions that help solve global problems.


3D printing technology for freeform printing of satellite antennas in space Japanese:

About Mitsubishi Electric Corporation

With over 100 years of experience in providing reliable, high quality products, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation (TOKYO: 6503) is a recognized global leader in the manufacture, marketing and sale of electrical and electronic equipment used in the information processing and communications, space development and satellite communications, consumer electronics, industrial technology, energy, transportation and building equipment. Mitsubishi Electric enriches society with technology in the spirit of its “changes for the better”. The company recorded revenue of 4,476.7 billion yen (US$36.7 billion*) in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2022. For more information, please visit www.MitsubishiElectric .com

* Without requiring auxiliary support structures

** As of May 17, 2022 based on Mitsubishi Electric research

* US dollar amounts are converted from yen at the rate of ¥122 = US$1, the approximate rate in the Tokyo foreign exchange market as of March 31, 2022


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