Montana State University has announced plans to build a technology-test satellite called PrintSat. A one-unit CubeSat (10 cm on a side), PrintSat will be built out of nano-carbon-impregnated plastic using a 3D printer.

PrintSat was selected by NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative in 2012 and may be in space as soon as 2013.

MSU professor David Klumpar said 3D printing “will further lower the costs and speed the development of very small satellites, enabling future scientific missions comprised of dozens of satellites flying in formation.”

Printing satellite parts on Earth for use in space is one thing, but Made in Space is a startup company that wants to use 3D printers to manufacture parts in space. Made in Space tested two printers on Zero Gee flights in the summer of 2011 under the sponsorship of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program. In one experiment, they manufactured an open-end wrench to show how 3D printing could produce tools for use aboard a future space station.

Made in Space hopes  test their 3D printing technology aboard a suborbital flight in the near future.

Contrary to popular belief, 3D printing is not limited to plastics. 3D printers have been demonstrated with a wide variety of materials including metals. Paul Breed of Unreasonable Rocket has demonstrated the use of such a printer to build rocket engines.

Written by Astro1 on April 21st, 2012 , Innovation, Nanosatellites, Rocketry

Space Florida, which manages the $3-million Nanosatellite Launch Challenge for NASA, has published draft rules for the competition.

The goal of the Nanosatellite Launch Challenge is to encourage the development of new systems for low-cost, frequent launches of small payloads.

The draft rules call for a prize of $1.5 million going to the first team that completes two successful launches, with a payload of one kilogram each, within a period of seven days. Each payload must complete at least one orbit of the Earth with a maximum perigee of 2000 kilometers. Both launches must use the same vehicle type and design.

Second and third prizes of $1 million and $500,000 go to the next two teams to achieve the goal. The payload does not need to be functional. 

The first prize can be won by a ground-launched or air-launched vehicle. If the first prize is won by a ground-launched vehicle, the second prize can only be won by an air-launched vehicle, and vice versa.

The Nanosatellite Launch Challenge is part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges program. Unlike most Centennial Challenges, which require systems to be developed solely with private investment, the Nanosatellite Launch Challenge allows vehicles based on designs developed by or for the government. Vehicles must be manufactured without substantial government investment (more than initial phase one SBIR funding or $150,000 whichever is greater).

This seems like a curious rule, since the purpose of Centennial Challenges is normally to encourage the development of a system or capability without traditional government development contracts. It would be theoretically possible for a team to win the Nanosatellite Launch Challenge with a rocket developed entirely at government expense, paying only for the cost of two launches. (In practice, there has been a notable lack of government interest in nanosatellite launcher development.)

Written by Astro1 on April 19th, 2012 , Innovation, Nanosatellites, Rocketry

On March 16, NASA conducted another test of its Morpheus lunar lander. The Morpheus lander, built by Armadillo Aerospace, is sized to land a 1,100-pound payload on the Moon. Morpheus is a scaled up version of the Pixel quad rocket which Armadillo built to compete for the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. Project Morpheus is based at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.


Tests like these show how far Armadillo Aerospace has come. Founded by Doom video-game creator John Carmac, Armadillo Aerospace was originally staffed entirely by volunteers. Although the company is now run by paid employees, its development shows how citizen-science efforts can contribute to the development of rocketry and space technology. (Armadillo Aerospace was still run by volunteers when it won the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge.)

The video below shows an overview of previous Morpheus tests.


Written by Astro1 on March 17th, 2012 , Armadillo Aerospace, Rocketry, Space Exploration (General) Tags: