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Tomsk-TPU-120, the first 3D printed CubeSat Mission

The Tomsk -TPU-120 3U CubeSat was launched from Baikonur to the ISS on March 31, 2016 in a Progress-MS-2 cargo vessel. It will be deployed by hand during a future Russian spacewalk (EVA), which is why it has a handle. The 5 kg nanosatellite was developed by students at TPU (Tomsk Polytechnic University), the oldest technical university in the Asian part of Russia (founded in 1896), to test new space materials technology — it will be the world's first space vehicle with a 3D-printed structure when deployed. 1) 2)

According to Alexey Yakovlev, head of the TPU Institute of High Technologies, Tomsk-TPU-120 is the world's first satellite, which was developed with the help of a 3D printer. The entire casing of a satellite is fully 3D printed using dynamic modeling. The combination of these technologies can significantly reduce the development time and the number of full-scale tests, find new engineering solutions and reduce the project's cost. 3) 4)

Alexey Yakovlev explained that dynamic modeling, along with 3D printing, allow developers to reduce the satellite's weight, give it strong characteristics and resist vibration. "The current project is just the first stage of a long-term project to develop and create small, multi-purpose satellites. In particular, this work pertains to the creation of an on-orbit group of satellites dealing with many urgent problems related to agriculture, forest fires, climate change and natural resources," he said.


Figure 1: Photo of the Tomsk-TPU-120 nanosatellite (image credit: TPU)

In May 2016 Tomsk Polytechnic University celebrated its 120th anniversary. As part of the celebrations on May 10-11 Tomsk-TPU-120 was activated in the ISS and transmitted a greeting to Earth inhabitants, recorded by students of the university in 11 languages: Russian, English, German, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Arab, Tatar, Kazakh, Hindi and Spanish.


Figure 2: The Tomsk-TPU-120 satellite aboard the ISS was turned on May 10, 2016 at 07:55 UTC and was switched off on May 11 at 10:10 UTC for the 120-year anniversary celebration of the University (image credit: TPU)

According to Alexey Yakovlev, Russian cosmonauts will deploy the satellite in July 2017 from the outer surface of the ISS, something that Yakovlev described as "a tricky and expensive procedure, preceded by repair or the modernization of the space outpost. Experiments with the satellite were conducted not only on board the ISS, but also on the ground. Many radio amateurs from all across the world were able to catch a satellite signal on their radio stations, and posted videos of it on the Internet."

Yakovlev added that after being put into orbit, the Tomsk-TPU-120 will be in free flight mode for about six months. During this time, he said, its orbit will ebb gradually and it is slated to eventually enter the dense layers of the atmosphere, where it will be destroyed. He also said that in November of 2016, the Russian Federal Space Agency Roscomos approved experiments on creating CubeSat satellites on board the ISS with the help of a 3D printer and then placing them into orbit.



Mission status

• April 12, 2018: On the eve of the Cosmonautics Day, TPU delegation donated to the Cosmonautics Museum (Moscow) a copy of Tomsk-TPU-120 satellite which is the world's first vehicle based on 3D technologies and state-of-the-art materials. 5)

- Director of School of Advanced Manufacturing Technology Aleksei Yakovlev noted: ‘On behalf of the designers and creators of the spacecraft including Tomsk Polytechnic University, Rocket and Space Corporation Energia, and the Institute of Strength Physics and Materials Sciences SB RAS we are presenting the operating Tomsk-TPU-120 satellite to the Cosmonautics Museum. We would like it to be kept for history and serve for developing space industry through popularizing space technology and enhancing interest to it. TPU satellite can be used for vocational guidance among young people.'

- Aleksei Yakovlev emphasized that two fully functional satellites should be produced pursuant to requirements. The one conquers space, the other remains on Earth. It is the second copy of the Tomsk-TPU-120 satellite especially created for the 120th anniversary of the University which was donated to the museum.


Figure 3: Photo of Aleksei Yakovlev handing the 3U CubeSat over to the museum. The museum received a working copy of the satellite and as a flight copy it was tested and certified. Our objective was to monitor the behavior of materials used for 3D-printing the satellite under extreme temperatures on the orbit, i.e. from -150 +150 °C.

Note: The Tomsk-TPU-120 project did not say anything about the 3U CubeSat mission operations, and the length of the operations, after the deployment from the ISS.

Deployment of Tomsk-TPU-120 CubeSat: 6) On 17 August 2017, Tomsk-TPU-120, Russia's first 3D-printed spacecraft, was deployed from the ISS. At 17:37 Moscow Time, Roscosmos cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Sergey Ryazanskiy opened the output hatch of the Pirs (SO1) docking compartment and started to work on their spacewalk [EVA (Extravehicular Activity) on outer surface of the ISS]. The Tomsk-TPU-120 nanosatellite was deployed manually.


Figure 4: Fyodor Yurchikhin holding the Tomsk-TPU-120 nanosatellite on the outside of the ISS. The photo was shot from the GoPro camera attached to the cosmonaut's space suit. NASA also recorded the deployment of the satellite (image credit: Roscosmos, NASA)


Figure 5: Photo of the deployed Tomsk-TPU-120 nanosatellite (image credit: Roscosmos)

Everything was done with the assistance of our partners, i.e. ISPMS SB RAS and RSC Energia. 'This is a truly historic event, on which I congratulate all members of TPU community,' TPU Rector Petr Chubik addressed via Skype from the Roscosmos Mission Control Center.

Director General of RSC Energia Vladimir Solntsev congratulated TPU on the successful launching of the satellite through the TPU Student Flight Control Center and added: ‘Now Tomsk can call itself ‘a space land'.'

The Tomsk-TPU-120 nanosatellite with 3D printed casings will be testing the effects of low-Earth-orbit environment on the composition of 3D printed materials.


1) "Tomsk-TPU-120 CubeSat celebrates University anniversary," AMSAT-.UK, April 30, 2016, URL:

2) "TPU to Launch World's First 3D-printed Satellite," March 1, 2016, URL:

3) "Smallsat Build Assisted By A 3D Printer —Tomsk-TPU-120 To Launch From ISS This Summer," Satnews Daily, Jan. 02, 2017, URL:

4) A unique 3D-printed Russian satellite is expected to be put into orbit from the International Space Station next year," Sputnik Nesw, Dec. 26, 2016, URL:

5) "Tomsk-TPU-120 satellite becomes part of Museum of Cosmonautics," Tomsk Polytechnic University, 12 April 2018, URL:

6) "Tomsk-TPU-120 CubeSat deployed in outer space," Tomsk Polytechnic University, 18 August 2017, URL:

The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: "Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors" (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (