On September 15, 2017 the Cassini spacecraft plunged into the the atmosphere of Saturn, ending it's nearly 20 year mission to explore the planet. The spacecraft was launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004. It spent the next 13 years exploring Saturn and its moons. We are proud that SICAM was able to contribute to this magnificent and successful project.
Back in the day, before 3D printing was a phrase and before parametric modeling was invented, a new technology called Stereolithography was just introduced. At that time it was called Rapid Prototyping.
SICAM received a sales lead from Computervision (CV) that JPL was using their solid modeling software and might be interested in Stereolithography. We visited JPL and showed them the possibilities and samples of what the technology could do.
A few weeks passed when we received a call from Jim Staats, the group supervisor for the Cassini project at JPL. Jim said they had created a solid model of a wave guide and wave splitter in their CV software and were looking for an alternative method of producing it to reduce costs. The part was required to be made from aluminum not plastic.
We told him about an experimental process of using a SLA model as a pattern for investment casting. Not knowing much about the wave devices, we did not know if the process would work for him but we said we were willing to try.
The benefits of savings in costs and time made Jim realize this was something he had to try and he contracted with SICAM to make the parts.
While he only needed one each for the "bird" as he called the spacecraft, three of each were ordered to go through the required testing.
Three SLA sets were produced, finished and prepared for investment casting.
At the time the method required a large block of ceramic to encase the SLA. This would protect the mold from cracking when the SLA material expanded as it was burnt out, creating the mold cavity.
The castings were produced successfully and sent to JPL for testing. Weeks passed and we were itching to know the results and if the parts were even usable for the application. We finally received a call from Jim, who said not only was the testing completed, but the wave guide and splitter performed excellently and was approved to fly onboard with the "bird".
On October 15, 1997 the Cassini orbiter was lunched from Cape Canaveral.
On September 15, 2017 Cassini plunged into Saturn's atmosphere ending it's almost 20 year mission.
Since 1990 we have produced hundreds of thousands of rapid prototypes, but this is one part we will never forget.
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