Futura Mission: on the ISS with the first Italian woman
Finmeccanica’s technology is part of the Futura space mission, which lifted off on November 23 from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and that features the presence of the first Italian woman astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti.
Six hours after launch, the Soyuz spacecraft completed its trip, taking the crew made of Samantha Cristoforetti, as pilot engineer, commander Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and astronaut Terry Virts of NASA, to the International Space Station (ISS) which will become their home for the next six months.
The goal of the Futura mission, and of astronaut Cristoforetti in particular, is to run a series of technical and scientific experiments in a weightless environment. These include “POP3D”, in which one of the Finmeccanica Group companies, Thales Alenia Space, played an important role.
Designed and built by the Turin-based company Altran, POP3D (Portable on-Board Printer) is a demonstrator for an automated production process suitable to the development of 3D thermoplastic polymer objects on board the Space Station. Thanks to the extensive experience accrued in the International Space Station, Thales Alenia Space has been able to make a key contribution to the definition of POP3D design aspects with respect to the integration of the printer on board the ISS.
The experiment will consist of having a 3D printer work in a non-gravity environment with the automatic production of a single plastic part as a first step towards developing a future digital, automated production plant on board the ISS and other space vehicles with crews.
Under the scope of the POP3D experiment, Thales Alenia Space has supplied the specifications for its integration within the International Space Station, and a series of essential contributions regarding the identification and definition of the operating scenarios and resources necessary to perform the printing operations.
The company was then responsible for preparing the procedure for the installation, activation and execution of the experiment by the astronaut. The preparation of the Quality Assurance and Safety Plan was particularly important to the mission, providing ASI and NASA with the information necessary to guarantee the safety of the experiment on board the ISS. Thales Alenia Space has also carried out the analyses necessary to identify the formation of contaminant agents considered as toxic to the environment of the orbiting station, which may develop during printer function. These analyses have enabled the identification of the design solutions required to protect from contamination of the printer and thereby enable its installation on board the ISS.
And there is a hint of colour... For the first time ever, the astronauts will be able to enjoy a real "Made in Italy" espresso coffee, thanks to the Selex ES technology made available by Argotec (an Italian aerospace company) and Lavazza, to qualify the ISSpresso - the first ever capsule espresso machine able to operate without gravity.
Finally, we should also recall that Samantha Cristoforetti and Finmeccanica have already crossed paths in the past: before being chosen among 8000 candidates for the six posts offered by the ESA, she was one of the first women to enrol in the Italian Airforce, where she reached a level of "captain", gathering numerous flight hours with trainers and fighters operated by the air force, such as the Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi AMX and MB-339.