SpaceFab Update - April 2022
As we had mentioned in our previous update, we submitted a joint proposal with a second aerospace partner to a new potential customer for a constellation of Viewpoint satellites. We made it through the first round, and were invited to participate in the second selection round, so we started work on the next phase of meeting the technical and financial detailed requirements. We felt confident about meeting the technical parts, but felt uncomfortable about some of the financial requirements and schedule requirements. After much discussion with our aerospace partner, we both decided there was too much financial risk, and so we withdrew our proposal.
In the meantime, the aerospace partner who we worked with in 2020 has informed us that their customer has re-started their program. That customer had stopped the program because Covid had impacted their country’s economy. Now that Covid is waning, their economy has recovered and the program has picked up where it left off. It’s also possible that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has shown them the value and importance of timely Earth observation of their territory.
As we also mentioned in our previous update, we have been working on our "omni-material" 3D printer. We are making steady progress. We assembled and tested our first laser control board prototype version, which required some modifications. We have already received, assembled, and started testing the second version laser control board, and it is working well.
The prototype omni-material 3D printer is shown in the picture below. The infrared laser beam is invisible and very powerful, and even reflected laser light is dangerously powerful, so we have built an opaque enclosure around the entire printer. In this prototype, the laser controller, power supply, and the water cooler and radiator are placed for easy access and modification.
We have been heating and melting steel based material, starting with low power and ramping up the power. We did overheat an optical component when running at full power, but changing the optical alignment should fix the problem.
We are continuing testing and characterizing the processing of steel, then we will switch to aluminum. Before we go too much farther, though, we will have to add an inert gas system. We have already started designing that.
The next big milestone will be to print an object that’s made of part steel and part aluminum. After we can demonstrate that, it will be time to start talking to VC’s, hopefully by this summer.
We are going to be using the 3-D printers to print lightweight strong parts for our observation satellites. This allows us not only to reduce weight through exotic materials and hollow prints, but by having fewer parts and fasteners.
We also plan on selling the 3-D multi-material printers as an income stream for SpaceFab.