You most probably have seen different versions of Da Vinci's masterpiece Mona Lisa, be it a depiction by AI or replicas very close to the original, when you dug into the depths of the internet. However, this time it was portrayed by a specific data transmission conducted by a 3D-printed space-grade polymer.
“In recent years we have been working on 3D printing using ‘polyether ether ketone’ – or PEEK – which is a tough thermoplastic with a melting point up around 350ºC, able to do the equivalent job of some metal parts," non-metallic materials and processes engineer, Ugo Lafont, at ESA explains.
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Then Lafont's team reportedly collaborated with a Portuguese company, dubbed PIEP, to involve sufficient amounts of carbon nanotubes and graphene nanoparticles to make the printable PEEK conduct electricity.
“Now we asked Polish firm Zortrax, with reliable dual-print commercial printers in their portfolio, to produce test parts. We supplied them with samples of our two PEEK variants, then the company worked on optimizing the dual-print parameters to reliably print electrically conductive paths through a standard PEEK body,” Lafont continued.
Zortrax engineers added to their achievements by reaching a maximum data transfer rate, which is 115200 bits per second.
The success appears quite essential, proving that the plastic printed parts could conduct their own power while data passes through the parts without any wiring and circuits.
The printer has a 15.7 x 11.8 x 11.8 inch (40 x 30 x 30 cm) building space, which could allow the technology to go further and print small nanosatellites in the future.
"A capability to 3D print simultaneously with two space-grade polymers paves the way to manufacturing composite components tailored to specific applications in the space industry,” as Jacek Krywko explained, technology solutions research specialist at Zortrax.