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.

  • soft magnetic materials

    AM of soft magnetic materials by Elementum 3D funded by NASA

    The NASA SBIR Phase I funding awarded to Elementum 3D is centered around the development of additively manufactured soft magnetic materials for large diameter (HETs). In-space electric propulsion systems are growing in terms of importance for interplanetary missions. Better manufacturing methods are needed to produce large diameter Hall-effect thrusters with…

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  • Launcher Orbiter, a new orbital transfer vehicle and satellite platform

    Launcher Orbiter is the new universal orbital transfer vehicle and satellite platform, created by Launcher to be compatible with both Launcher Light and SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare flights. As we have come to know Launcher as one of the heaviest adopters of additive manufacturing for its vehicle components’ production, it…

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  • FAMAero Sciaky

    Sciaky receives SBIR award from NASA

    Sciaky, a subsidiary of Phillips Service Industries, Inc. (PSI) and a leading supplier of industrial metal 3D printing solutions, received a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award from NASA. The objective of the SBIR is to enhance Sciaky’s Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing (EBAM) process with new machine-learning algorithms that automatically…

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  • Optisys uses SLM technology to manufacture parts for space missions

    Optisys, an advanced turnkey antenna, and radar product supplier, use the SLM 500 to manufacture parts used on space missions that include the moon. SLM technology offers multiple advantages but of particular interest to space, companies are that parts can be manufactured using topology optimization to produce light, compact and…

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  • Pangea Aerospace and Aenium partner on reusable aerospike 3D printed rocket engine

    Pangea Aerospace, an innovative company developing more efficient rocket engines, and Aenium Additive Systems, an engineering company specialized in AM technologies and complex material science, have sealed an industrial partnership for the development and industrialization of advanced combustion devices, such as the aerospike rocket engine, focused on advanced 3D printing…

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  • Relativity Space raises $650 million to scale Terran R rocket production

    Relativity Space, the first company to 3D print an entire rocket and build some of the largest metal 3D printers in the world, has closed a $650 million Series E equity funding round. The round was led by Fidelity Management & Research Company LLC with participation from investors including Baillie…

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  • The ISS’s new Brine Processor Assembly gets a 3D printed adapter

    Redwire’s Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) recently 3D printed a key part to keep the International Space Station’s (ISS) Brine Processor Assembly (BPA) working smoothly. The 3D printed part is an adapter to the BPA exhaust outlet and allows ducting to connect to a set of filters to remediate odors from…

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  • Jeff Bezos will be on Blue Origin’s first New Shepard crewed launch

    On July 20th, Blue Origin‘s New Shepard will fly its first astronaut crew to space and Amazon founder (and Blue Origin owner) Jeff Bezos will be aboard the suborbital rocket. The company is also offering one seat on this first flight to the winning bidder of Blue Origin’s online auction,…

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  • TUDelft and Vertico develop 3D printed habitats for Mars

    The Technical University Delft (TU Delft) and the European Space Agency (ESA) have partnered with Vertico to use its cutting-edge technology to print future underground habitats on Mars. The subsurface structures are part of a project led by Associate Professor and Leader of Robotic Building Henriette Bier at the TU…

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  • Launcher raises $11.7 million in Series-A and sets sight on first launch

    Launcher, one of the most exciting startups in the young, low-cost orbital launch industry, has raised $11.7 million in a Series-A round of funding, to accelerate the development of its first orbital vehicle featuring one of the largest ever metal PBF single parts ever printed. In an interview reported by…

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