The European Space Agency (ESA) has 3D printed the prototype of a dual-reflector antenna that is currently being put to work in their Compact Antenna Test Facility featuring a shielded chamber for antenna and radio-frequency testing.
The antenna incorporates a corrugated feedhorn and two reflectors, that have been printed in a polymer as one part. It was later plated with copper in order to meet its radio-frequency performance requirements.
“Designed for future mega-constellation small satellite platforms, it would need further qualification to make it suitable for real space missions, but at this stage we’re most interested in the consequences on RF performance of the low-cost 3D-printing process,” Maarten van der Vorst, engineer and designer of the antenna explains.
While the surface finish of the 3D printed version is rougher as it would be if produced with traditional manufacturing methods, the engineers are satisfied with its performance. By 3D printing the prior designed 3D model in one piece, any source of assembly misalignments and errors can be removed.
Innovative technology company and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology spin-off, SWISSto12, has printed the two antennas which were then coated using a special copper-plating technique.
“As a next step, we aim at more complex geometries and target higher frequencies,” Maarten adds. “And eventually we want to build space-qualified RF components for Earth observation and science instruments.”