TigerSats Lab

Lab Location & Access

The TigerSats Lab is located in Engineering Quad J216.  It is dedicated for use by participating MAE SPRE, Independent Work, and Senior Thesis students on their nanosat projects (see here for how to get involved!).  We are working towards enabling the lab for full open access by authorized MAE students (and whole MAE student nanosat teams!) working independently on extracurricular, club or class CubeSat/smallsat projects.  Contact us to hear more about the possibility of this open access. 


Rapid-Prototyping Tools


Roland MDX-540 CNC Mill


Roland MDX-540

Perhaps the centerpiece of our rapid-prototyping tool suite is our Roland MDX-540 benchtop CNC milling machine, with full interlocked safety enclosure, automatic toolchanger, and rotary 4th axis.  Our experience is that the Roland CNCs (and their compatible software)--although expensive--offer the easiest CNC learning curve to students of any similar desktop CNCs on the market.  The Roland can mill flightworthy cubesat parts out of aluminum (albeit slowly) as well as prototype/lab parts out of many softer materials.  The working volume of the rotary axis unit is ample for turnkey, multi-side milling of 1U and 2U cubesat rails.  The rotary axis unit is marginal for 3U rails, but these can be milled on the larger vise table (often via multiple side setups) when necessary. 


Wazer Desktop Waterjet


Also unique and exciting for our lab is the Wazer desktop waterjet cutter.  It's almost as easy to use as a lasercutter, but fully-capable of cutting sheet metal (and virtually any other sheet materials, even carbon fiber, ceramics, rubbers, etc.).  We can use it to cut sheet metal cubesat side panels (up to 6U and larger) and other sheet metal parts, and to perform outline-cutting of any specially-shaped PCB blanks (such as PC104) before printing the circuit board on the Voltera (below), which can't do its own outline-cutting.  The major usability bonus of a waterjet is that cutting jobs require only a simple 2D vector file (rather than a more complicated 3D CAD file) and job setup and fixturing is usually easier than on a CNC as well.  


Voltera PCB Printer

Voltera Kit
Voltera print


The Voltera PCB printer is a very student-safe, user-friendly, fast tool for same-day PCB printing.  It prints circuits with conductive silver ink, and can drill via holes itself.  It is particularly well-suited for printing surface-mount (SMT) circuits, which it can even reflow in-place itself, on its own stovetop bed! Our ProtoSat ThinSat was the first-ever flight heritage of a Voltera-printed circuit board.  Despite this flight heritage, our experience is that Voltera circuits aren't particularly well-suited as intricate flight hardware.  But we still make great use of the Voltera for same-day prototyping and troubleshooting of flight PCB designs that we'll eventually order from online PCB prototypers for ~1 week delivery.    


Bantam PCB Mill

Bantam PCB milling machine
PCB milling

The Bantam PCB Milling Machine is another student-safe, user-friendly tool for in-house PCB prototyping.  It subtractively carves circuits out of copper-clad, resin/cellulose-based FR1 subtrates (to mitigate the inhalation risk of dust from the FR4 fiberglass substrates more typical of professional circuit boards).  The Bantam is also fully-enclosed in an interlocked safety enclosure.  It can perform its own drilling and outline-cutting (such as PC104) in-place.  Although the Bantam software is especially user-friendly, setting up and fixturing a PCB milling job (especially double-sided) is still typically slightly more onerous than a similar setup on the Voltera (above), but you are rewarded with a PCB that is quite sturdy, robust, and (arguably) flightworthy.  To our knowledge, our ProtoSat (ThinSat) was the first-ever flight heritage of a CNC-milled FR1 PCB.  

PCB milling is not terribly well-suited for surface-mount (SMT) circuits, but we don't use many of those in our nanosats anyway (we try to stick to mostly hand-solderable thru-hole components). 


Ultimaker S3 3D Printer

Ultimaker S3

Our workhorse 3D printer is the Ultimaker S3.  It has dual extruders (for intricate geometries and support scaffolding), a heated bed, and can print a wide variety of filaments, including PLA, ABS (some formulations), and even stainless steel, carbon fiber and other composite filaments (with a special add-on hardened nozzle or kit).  Its Cura software is very user-friendly, capable, configurable, and quite ubiquitous in the 3D printing community.  It's fully-enclosed with an add-on HEPA-filtering cover.


Creality Ender 3 Pro

Ender 3 Pro

Our Ender 3 Pro 3D printer comes in handy as a backup when the Ultimaker is in use, but otherwise, its primary use case is for 3D printing enthusiasts who prefer more configurability and "tinker-ability".  The Ender is one of the most popular (and capable!) printers in the open-source 3D printing community, and has endless customizations and tweaks available.  It's unenclosed, so we use it in a fume hood (for fume safety).