AM for Space

Space additive manufacturing is going to have a key role in enabling the future of human space travel and interplanetary colonization. In fact, it is already playing a key role in enabling the production of low-cost satellites and lighter, more efficient rockets to take cargos into orbit.

Whether it will take another 10, 50 or 100 years for commercial space-based ventures to grow into one of the largest—if not the largest—manufacturing segments, we are already past the dawn of the commercial space age and we just experienced the dawn of the commercial human space age. Commercial space exploration or commercial planetary colonization will soon be within our reach, as several companies of various sizes are now creating viable business opportunities in space for satellites and the communication industry.

One of the most significant challenges that all these space ventures need to overcome in order to place satellites, probes, landers, telescopes or even spacecraft in orbit is the high per kilogram cost required to break free of the Earth’s gravitational pull. This means that for every additional kilogram of payload, mission costs can increase by several orders of magnitude because heavier or bigger payloads require larger and more powerful launch vehicles.

Additive manufacturing provides the most effective tool to optimize weight in systems built to reach space. This is true both for launch vehicles and—until the time when resources are gathered in space—for spaceborne systems and devices. Together with weight-optimized geometries, AM can help to greatly lower the cost of commercial space activities by continuing to drive the development of advanced materials, including metal replacement, high-performance polymers and composites.

space additive manufacturing
Click on the image to read about the most relevant projects for 3D printing interplanetary space habitats

Space, the initial frontier

Additional direct advantages can be derived from increased process automation for small batch series or single item production—which is a more relevant issue in rocketry and satellite manufacturing than in any manufacturing segment. This is especially true within the $120-billion commercial infrastructure and support segments—including the manufacturing of spacecraft, in-space platforms and ground equipment, as well as launch services and independent research and development. While the overall revenues will continue to represent only a minimal part of the overall space manufacturing industry, AM has the potential to be one of the key elements that will help the commercial space industry grow into maturity.

Further down the road, with more people traveling in Space, AM more and more production will take place in Space as well. Nowhere is production more distributed than outside of our planet, and no technology can deliver on-location, distributed manufacturing of complex part more efficiently than additive manufacturing. Getting to orbit, getting through space, and staying in space will only be possible through AM.

Availability of construction materials (e.g., metals, water) in space (on asteroids or on surfaces of planetary bodies) creates the possibility to additively build settlements and other facilities without having to take expensive and bulky prefabricated materials out of Earth’s gravitational field. Lunar and Mars regolith, for example, could be used to construct pressurized habitats for human shelter as well as other infrastructure (landing pads, roads, blast walls, shade walls and hangars for protection against thermal radiation and micrometeorites). Several NASA and ESA funded projects explored the concept of using various additive manufacturing techniques to build infrastructure on the Moon and on Mars.

Exactly how it will happen is the Focus of 3dpbm’s Aerospace AM Focus 2020 for this entire month. We have lots of great content coming up so stay tuned.

  • AAMS 2021 looks at aerospace AM in the face of global challenges

    On the 22nd and 23rd of September, the Aerospace Additive Manufacturing Summit – AAMS 2021, an international business summit entirely dedicated to additive manufacturing in the aerospace industry, will hold its third edition. Several key players in this segment will come together, during two days, at the MEETT center in…

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  • CRP Technology to highlight use of Windform materials at SpaceAM 2021

    CRP Technology will be attending SpaceAM, a 2 days event dedicated to advanced materials in Space (14-15 September, Leicester, UK), as a virtual speaker, on Tuesday, September 14th. The company will highlight the successful implementation of the Polymer Powder Bed Fusion technology and the benefits of using Windform composite materials…

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  • AON3D funding reaches $11.5M, sets sights on PM1 Moon lander

    Canadian 3D printer manufacturer‘s AON3D funding reached $11.5M (USD) on Series A round, as the company formed a partnership with Astrobotic to support the upcoming PM1 Moon lander mission. This brings the company’s total funding to $14.2M. SineWave Ventures led the round with participation from AlleyCorp, Y Combinator Continuity, BDC…

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  • Launcher adds second Velo3D 3D printer for rocket engine parts

    The partnership between Velo3D and Launcher is further proving out the value of 3D printing for delivering satellites to orbit cost-effectively and with destination-orbit flexibility. In April 2021, Launcher purchased a Velo3D Sapphire metal additive manufacturing solution to print rocket engine parts in Inconel last. Now the company has added…

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  • SOM studio and MX3D create 3D printed Lunar Floor for ESA

    A skeletal floor for the ESA-supported lunar habitat design was created by leading architects Skidmore, Owings and Merrill using metal 3D printing. The prototype lunar floor design section was 3D printed in stainless steel by Dutch company MX3D, known for creating a metal 3D printed bridge in Amsterdam, using its…

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  • Rocket Lab completes SPAC merger with Vector

    Rocket Lab USA, Inc., a global leader in largely 3D printed launch and space systems, and Vector Acquisition Corporation, a special purpose acquisition company backed by leading technology investor Vector Capital, have completed the merger agreement that resulted in Rocket Lab becoming a publicly-traded company. As a result, Vector changed…

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  • Relativity Space gets on ramp for U.S. Space Force OSP-4 contract

    The U.S. Space Force (USSF) Rocket Systems Launch Program Office, a part of the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise at Kirtland Air Force Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico, on-ramped Relativity Space to the Orbital Services Program (OSP)-4 Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ). OSP-4 allows for the rapid acquisition of launch…

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  • additive manufacturing at ESA

    Additive manufacturing at ESA, the alpha and omega

    Space is the initial frontier for additive manufacturing. It is where AM makes the most sense and where it has made the most sense from the very start. As Head of the Structures, Mechanisms and Materials Division at the European Space Agency, Dr. Tommaso Ghidini is in charge of identifying…

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  • Rocket Lab to supply multiple photon spacecraft for space manufacturing

    Rocket Lab, one of the very first companies to fully exploit the benefits of AM in rocket engine manufacturing, signed a deal with in space manufacturing company Varda Space Industries. According to the terms of the agreement, Rocket Lab will produce three Photon spacecraft that will integrate with Varda’s space…

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  • ICON 3D prints entire simulated Mars Dune Alpha surface habitat for NASA

    American construction 3D printing company ICON has been awarded a subcontract from NASA to deliver a 3D printed habitat, known as Mars Dune Alpha, at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. As part of NASA’s Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA), ICON’s next-gen Vulcan construction system will complete a 1,700 square-foot…

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