A Southwest Florida tech company is preparing to send itself and the local economy into space in 2023 using 3D printed satellites.
Space Tech founder Wil Glaser has set his sights high and hopes that what’s now just a prototype rocket will lead his company into the future.
“It’s kind of like an ‘attention prize,’ because eventually our satellites are going to launch on something like that, like the Falcon 9,” Glaser said. “We’re going to develop satellites and build satellites, and then develop other space applications.”
The application that Glaser and his tech team want to take to space is a unique form of 3D-printed CubeSat. Glaser says the benefit of using a 3D printer is the ability to go from concept to completion in a matter of days.
“We have to use something like version 20,” said Space Tech engineer Mike Carufe. “We have five different variants of each version.”
Carufe has a long history in 3D printing.
“I’ve done some amazing projects over the years,” Carufe said. “I’ve worked in, you know, medical, I’ve done a lot of inventions, I’ve done fashion. I’ve jumped into bed in basically every field, but space is a very primal thing for me. .”
CubeSats are design-intensive, essentially a satellite in a box. It is designed to efficiently house all the hardware and software needed to operate in space. The current version of Space Tech fits in a briefcase.
“It’s the latest and greatest,” Carufe said. “This is where we start to really push the limits of how sats can be combined. So, we have sweptback solar panels, we have tall, very tall zoom LEDs on the bottom, and everything starts to mechanize.”
3D printers are clearly well-suited to building satellites, using a powder-to-metal process to build parts layer by layer. When heated, it fuses all the metals together and turns the plastic parts into actual metal parts that can be sent into space, Carufe explained. Not much assembly is required, so Space Tech doesn’t need a large facility. In fact, the company is located on property owned by Florida Gulf Coast University.
“They provided us with a lab space to experiment and prototype,” Glaser said. “We can focus on our business applications…and at the same time, bring in students from FGCU so they can learn a lot of those applications as well.”
Space Tech is also consulting military experts; its buyer will be the US Department of Defense. If it fine-tunes 3D printing to meet functional needs, the satellite is almost ready to take off.
“We can build and put something into Falcon 9 in six months,” Glaser said.
SpaceX missions already lease space to send payloads into space. It can cost anywhere from $300,000 to $1 million, which is why it’s important to make something small.