Naval Postgraduate School Crushes 3D Printed CubeSat for DARPA

CubeSat is a standardized (pdf) set of dimensions for small (10 cm) satellites that are particularly popular with colleges because students can actually test their satellites in space. Normally, CubeSats are made out of aluminum. DARPA wanted to know whether or not a 3D printed CubeSat is a plausible idea. They used their Digital Manufacturing Analysis, Correlation and Estimation (DMACE) competition as a chance to test the idea.

Test cube from DARPA DMACE challenge.

Wanna see a video of a 3D printed plastic cube being professionally obliterated? Got it, and more, after the jump…

Basically, they crushed some test cubes to give the competitors a chance to refine their models of what exactly might happen to the test cube…

…and here’s the CubeSat version being crushed. It holds up pretty well, considering.

If that piqued your interest then you should read through the academic paper (pdf) on the subject. There’s some good stuff in there about the mechanical structure that Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) or Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) printers produce. Basically, since they lay down “noodles” of plastic in layers they produce a “grain” in the finished piece that makes it stronger in one direction than in another. The abstract:

A 3-D digital prototype printer has been considered for direct digital manufacturing of components because this technology has many benefits compared to conventional manufacturing technologies. In order to assess the applicability of the direct digital fabrication to a critical structural component, mechanical properties of the digitally fabricated component should meet the design or performance requirements. Furthermore, it is necessary to be able to predict the mechanical properties of the fabricated component based on the input parameters of the 3-D digital printer. The present project measured the mechanical properties (i.e. strength and stiffness) of samples fabricated f rom a 3-D digital printer as a function of processing parameters, determined predictive model connecting the input parameters to t he 3-D digital printer and mechanical properties of the fabricated samples by using a statistical design of experiments and multivariate regression, validated the model using crush-strength experiments on the NPS CubeSat structure, and to hosted the CubeSat challenge.

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