The objective of the project HITAMAiSPA is the development of a strategy to manufacture satellite antennas using high performance polymers via additive manufacturing (AM) and their functionalization via surface metallization techniques.
The proposed application is based on an antenna array to provide global coverage, which displays a significant reduction in terms of height when compared to the traditionally used Global Horns, thus reduces the accommodation limitations of these kinds of antennas. AM enables the design of the antenna array in a reduced number of pieces, which simplifies considerably the highly time-consuming assembly and test phases. Additionally, using polymer as material results in lightweight, payload-reducing parts.
To achieve this goal, it is necessary to fabricate precise AM parts with low surface roughness and additionally ensure the required (thermo)mechanical properties for application in extreme environments (e.g. high temperature variations from -50 to 300 °C, vacuum).
Therefore, it is essential to use a base polymeric material, which tolerates high temperature as well as temperature cycles. This demanding task will be achieved by the use of newly developed polymer materials accessible via the Hot Lithography process established by the company Cubicure GmbH. This unique stereolithography technology provides a large window of opportunity for new high performance AM materials (i.e. processing resin formulations with viscosities up to 20 Pa s at processing temperatures as high as 120 °C). The potential of application for tailored high temperature resistant polymer AM materials, which can be manufactured by the Hot Lithography process will be investigated.
Subsequently, the surface of such high performance polymeric AM parts needs to be coated in a way that provides functionality via good adherence and uniform plating of finally metallized 3D surfaces. Thus, a wet chemical process will be used ensuring uniform activation and metallization by different conductive layers of choice (such as Cu or Ag) of the outer and inner areas even of complex structures. Therefore, the proposed concept will benefit from introducing the surface metallization process into the newly developed additive manufacturing workflow and the tailorisation of the wet-chemical process to the developed AM material.
Additionally, to the manufacturing and plating of such AM antenna systems, the characterization of the components and the improvement of the interplay of each step is of high importance. So that in the end lightweight antenna systems for aerospace applications with long lifetime and outstanding overall performance are designed and additively manufactured.
The HITAMAiSPA project has distinctive innovation potential for satellite communication systems and the space industry and may provide knowledge even beyond the scope of the project, e.g. for the usage of polymer-based, metallized parts like other passive RF components (e.g. filter) or heat exchangers.
CEST Centre for Electrochemistry and Surface Technology
- Cubicure GmbH
- TTI NORTE S.L.