On-Orbit Additive Manufacturing of Parabolic Reflector via Solar Photopolymerization

    •  Weiss, A., Yerazunis, W.S., Radyjowski, P., Cottrell, R., "On-Orbit Additive Manufacturing of Parabolic Reflector via Solar Photopolymerization", International Astronautical Congress (IAC), October 2019, pp. IAC-19,C2,IP,2,x51358.
      BibTeX TR2019-125 PDF
      • @inproceedings{Weiss2019oct,
      • author = {Weiss, Avishai and Yerazunis, William S. and Radyjowski, Patryk and Cottrell, Richard},
      • title = {On-Orbit Additive Manufacturing of Parabolic Reflector via Solar Photopolymerization},
      • booktitle = {International Astronautical Congress (IAC)},
      • year = 2019,
      • pages = {IAC--19,C2,IP,2,x51358},
      • month = oct,
      • url = {}
      • }
  • MERL Contacts:
  • Research Areas:

    Communications, Control, Electronic and Photonic Devices


We consider an alternative solution for the conflicting requirements found in designing a spacecraft antennas, via on-orbit 3D printing. High gain and wide bandwidth depend upon large aperture, while economical orbital deployment dictates lightweight, sturdy, and small structures able to fit (or fold) inside the payload shroud of the launch vehicle. Finally, the antenna must function on orbit; a failed antenna deployment compromises the entire mission. Current solutions are to launch a final-shape unit (compromising on gain, and bandwidth), or to launch a folded antenna (compromising strength and reliability). An alternative solution is to 3D-print the antenna reflector on-orbit, using a photosensitive resin that polymerizes by crosslinking to a stable heat-resistant solid when exposed to UV. As the antenna is produced on orbit, in microgravity, it does not need to be any more robust than necessary to survive orbit correction maneuvers. Thus, it may be much thinner and lighter than a conventional antenna that must survive the stresses of launch and orbital insertion. After printing, the additional motors required for printing then become available for adjusting antenna focus, off-axis aiming, and beam pattern squint control, as well as aiming the antenna beam rapidly on orbit by using non-holonomic motions of the printed antenna against the main spacecraft bus.. As the antenna specifics are not determined until actual printing, it would be possible to pre-launch spare space vehicles and print the antenna with a specific (and possibly asymmetric) beam pattern on demand. To verify the feasibility of free-form 3D printing such structures with adequate shape control and surface smoothness to be used as spacecraft antennas, we built such a head-and-ram free-form 3D printer extruding several candidate resins. While bathing the printer in UV, and using an early candidate low-volatility resin, we successfully freeform-printed in air and earth gravity a 165mm (6.5”) parabolic antenna with an ~f/1 focal ratio and a measured gain of 23.5 dB (vs a dipole) in the Ku band (13.5 GHz) with a simple dipole feed. Further resin candidates improved the strength-to-weight ratio by producing a desirable structural foam when extruded under vacuum of ~25 millibar


  • Related News & Events

    •  NEWS    MERL's On-Orbit 3D Printing Technology Featured in Mitsubishi Electric Corporation Press Release
      Date: May 17, 2022
      Where: Tokyo, Japan
      MERL Contacts: Avishai Weiss; William S. Yerazunis
      Research Areas: Applied Physics, Communications
      • Mitsubishi Electric Corporation announced that the company has developed an on-orbit additive-manufacturing technology that uses photosensitive resin and solar ultraviolet light for the freeform printing of satellite antennas in the vacuum of outer space.

        The novel technology makes use of a newly developed liquid resin that was custom formulated for stability in vacuum. The resin enables structures to be fabricated in space using a low-power process that utilizes the sun’s ultraviolet rays for photopolymerization. The technology specifically addresses the challenge of equipping small, inexpensive spacecraft buses with large structures, such as high-gain antenna reflectors, and enables on-orbit fabrication of structures that greatly exceed the dimensions of launch vehicle fairings. Resin-based on-orbit manufacturing is expected to enable spacecraft structures to be made thinner and lighter than conventional designs, which must survive the stresses of launch and orbital insertion, thereby reducing both total satellite weight and launch costs.

        Mitsubishi Electric’s resin-based on-orbit manufacturing enables small satellites to have large satellite capability, which reduces launch costs and allows for satellite technology to be used more than ever in applications such as communication and Earth observation. The technology is based on recent research by MERL's Control for Autonomy and Data Analytics groups.


        Mitsubishi Electric Corporation Press Release
        SatMagazine: UV In The Sky With Resin: A novel, on-orbit manufacturing technique