Dec 20, 2011
3DPrintingNews
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Rapid Prototyping helps explore earth’s atmosphere.

Scientists involved in the University of Southampton’s ASTRA (Atmospheric Science Through Robotic Aircraft) Project have created the worlds first air vehicle to be entirely produced  through Rapid Prototyping technology.

The ASTRA project aims at demonstrating how a bespoke high altitude platform suitable for sending atmospheric monitoring equipment into the upper atmosphere could be developed and manufactured within days and at low cost. Currently researchers seeking to measure atmospheric parameters attach radiosondes to weather balloons, which while straight forward to deploy, limit the quantity of data that can be transmitted back to the ground.

Dubbed the ASTRA Atom, the balloon-borne platform has been designed to reach heights of 30km  and will include a tracking system that will allow it to be found after its 5-7 hour flight. This ability to track the Atom will prove crucial to unlocking the data it has accumulated and stored during its flight. Protected by two foam ‘orbits’ designed to  break on landing, absorbing the energy of the impact, the entire 700g structure has been printed on the university’s 3D printer, while the on board data-logging equipment has been built using Microsoft’s rapid electronic prototyping toolkit, .NET Gadgeteer.

Due for launch on the 7th of December at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, strong surface winds have lead to the decision to postpone the ATOM’s maiden flight until early in the new year.  In addition to the ATOM the scientists are working on balloon based gliders with the capacity to gather more data than a radiosonde.

Unmanned aircraft produced entirely with Rapid Prototyping

Unmanned aircraft produced entirely with Rapid Prototyping

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