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Half a million euros for 3D printing of satellite fuel tanks

Half a million euros for 3D printing of satellite fuel tanks

Dawn Aerospace has been awarded the €500,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II project from the Netherlands Aerospace Office (NSO). Funding is for research into 3D printing fuel tanks with non-standard metals for use in ESPA and ESPA-class satellites. TNO’s Biomaterials Division and the Royal Netherlands Space Center (NLR) are involved as partners in the project.

Dawn Aerospace is a Dutch and New Zealand startup. The company is developing reusable rockets intended to launch small satellites into space. The company’s satellite propulsion system uses self-propelled nitrous oxide and propane. This means that it does not require helium or fuel management devices, which is common with standard fuels such as hydrazine.

More freedom in design

This gives Dawn Aerospace more freedom in the design of the fuel tank. This allows the company to manufacture these cabinets in a variety of form factors. This allows the manufacturer to design the tanks specifically for the customer’s satellite. This makes propulsion systems simpler, more flexible to design, faster to produce, and cheaper.

“We can make tanks suitable for just about any satellite form factor, and we’re already 3D printing these tanks right now,” explains Jeroen Wink, co-founder and CRO of Dawn. “The weirder the form factor, the higher the tank mass. With this NSO-funded research, we hope to eliminate this drawback and give our customers complete design flexibility.”

Higher pulse intensity

Dawn Aerospace compares its propulsion system to an alternative propulsion system for green satellites: the LMP-103S (ADN). This one uses classic detonation geometry. Dawn Aerospace reports that in many cases, its thrust provides more than 50% higher thrust density.

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“We hope to reduce the mass of our tank by another 50%,” Wink says. “This will result in higher pulse intensity and delta V and higher performance for our customers.” Customers can purchase Dawn propellants from all industrial gas suppliers without export restrictions, the company reports.

NLR is pleased to contribute to the project with its unique knowledge of 3D metal printing and facilities such as the Metal Additive Manufacturing Technology Center (MAMTeC). This stimulates future production of propulsion components eligible for use in space through 3D printing in the Netherlands,” says Mark de Smet, Research and Development Engineer at NLR.

SBIR . Financing

Earlier this year, Dawn Aerospace was one of ten companies to also receive funding for phase one feasibility studies. The five most promising innovations received funding for the second phase, with a total of €2.5 million made available to the projects. It is the first time that SBIR funding has been provided for the development of flight hardware. The funding is part of a strategic call from the Dutch government to “develop technology for space infrastructure”. The Netherlands wants to use this to boost the supply in the Netherlands for future European space agencies and commercial missions.

“The aim of SBIR is to challenge companies from the Netherlands to demonstrate their technological and innovative capabilities,” says Ramon Peters, Head of the SBIR-T Project at NSO. “Anyone who can demonstrate a good prototype has a better chance of winning bids for future space missions.”

Author: Wouter Hoeffnagel
Photo: Dawn Aerospace

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