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Additive Manufacturing for Space: INEGI will create and test technology to analyze the ionosphere

17 December 2020
Characterize the ionosphere, to improve communications, weather forecasts, and understand how global warming is affecting the atmosphere. These are some of the future functions of space technology that is being created by a consortium that includes INEGI.

INEGI teamed up with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with Statosphere, INESC TEC and Clarke Modet to develop and test, on the ground, a new nano-satellite with integrated structural monitoring systems, and a miniaturized sensor system, where a mass spectrometer is included.

The innovative analytical instrumentation will enable, for the first time, quantitative and real-time characterization of the composition of the ionosphere on board a micro-satellite. This capacity reduces costs and opens new paths for scientific and commercial applications, thanks to the collection of important data for radio terrestrial communication, operation of navigation systems, satellite communication, among others, in a region that is difficult to access from the atmosphere. 

The composition of the ionosphere also influences the climate. Deeper knowledge will therefore improve weather forecasts and understand how global warming is affecting the Earth's atmosphere, in addition to improving understanding of the effect of climate change on the oceans.

Nuno Correia, responsible for the project at INEGI, says that, to make this a reality, the consortium will "bet on innovative concepts of advanced composite materials, additive manufacturing, sensors, ion propulsion, and communication to build such an important nano-satellite demonstrator. for science, for the uses of space, and for understanding the effects of climate change. ”To this end, the INEGI team will explore the application of topological optimization methods (ie computational shape optimization), with the aim of reducing the volume of nano-satellite structures.

Advanced additive manufacturing is at the heart of the project, and here INEGI's skills also stand out, namely for its ability to "use advanced 3D printing techniques of high-performance composite materials suitable for space applications, which is particularly challenging". Additive manufacturing is also the basis for the development of sensors (mass spectrometers), which are often smaller than what is possible to create with traditional technologies.

The project also includes the creation of a computational version of the satellite (digital twin) that allows a complete assessment of its functions on the ground, as well as a plan for testing the functionality of the satellite based on the physical behavior of its systems.

Entitled NewSat, this project that has INEGI, is led by Stratosphere and also joins MIT, INESC TEC and Clarke Modet.