Thursday, 15 June 2017

UK space conference part 3, Makers...(and Space Materials)

So probably my final post on the UK space conference 2017 as time is moving on! So during my time in the exhibition hall I saw some amazing technologies on display and also learnt of some amazing processes ranging from unit testing embedded systems, through new initiatives to make micro gravity science more accessible on the ISS through to the hydroxide-catalysis/silicate bonding of optical elements to a (beautiful) optical bed as part of the Lisa pathfinder interferometer pictured above.

It struck me as I walked around talking to everyone that it is JUST like a maker fair (but perhaps with less LEDs!) There are stalls that are purely outreach like the fantastic BIS, stalls selling tools, stalls selling measuring equipment, a vast majority of stalls showing and telling about their projects...

And the projects.. well they are super high tech and cutting edge a lot of the time..but although cutting edge often are they are essentially embedded systems..sensors and microprocessors with radios and antennas and power sytems...all classic maker fair projects!

These thoughts crystalised when I spoke (numerous times they were probably sick of me!) to the Ed Fagan booth, Ed Fagan are a global company that specialise in sourcing and supplying specialist alloys to the space industry. The first of which I heard about was 'Ultra 36' being discussed in a presentation by Chris Mahn.

 Frankly he had my attention just at the name as it sounds like a material from the marvel universe! On the stand we spoke about many of Ed Fagan metal products, Invar, Kovar, Ultra 36, they are materials with special properties such as special thermal properties. Objects in low earth orbit (ie satellites or the ISS) face a huge temperature range, for example without any thermal conditioning the ISS would range between plus 250 degrees celsius and minus 250 degress celsius so some of these special alloys are used as they contract and expand very little which is important as if something expands it might create a differential to the material it is attached too and cause it to fail.  Ultra 36 is an Iron, Nickel and Silica alloy useful for its low CTE (co-efficient of thermal expansion) and was developed as a partnership between Aerospace Metal Composites and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre and the amazing James Webb telescope contains 429kg of this fascinating material.

But again, talking to the men and women on the Ed Fagan booth what struck me was how like a conversation at a maker fair it was.. we discussed how it machined, what kind of tooling you need, what feeds and speeds you might use, a maker contact on twitter asked if it could be 3d printed?  We discussed that it couldn't as due to the way the structure of the alloy is achieved it can only be cold worked. I've had such similar discussions about..which nozzle to 3d print a certain filament or what feed for a laser to get the best cut on ply what angle tool for engraving a single side PCB.. again.. we are all makers...and makers... do some space stuff!

Its left me with a desire to try and track down a small bit of one of these fancy alloys to play with and machine.. so Ed Fagan thanks again for your time.. and feel free to send me a sample!

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