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.

  • Lamborghini launches 3D printed Space Key to access exclusive NFT

    Always ready to experiment with new design, manufacturing and marketing possibilities, Automobili Lamborghini has entered the world of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) with an artwork accessible via the Lamborghini Space Key. This exclusive project, developed with a still-undisclosed artist, combines many of the most advanced technologies, including 3D printing. The distinguishing…

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  • California space company orders two NXG Xll 600s from SLM Solutions

    A leading California-based rocket company had ordered two NXG Xll 600s from SLM Solutions Group AG. The giant 12-laser systems are seen a means to make space missions more affordable and efficient by creating lighter, faster, and more robust space components. As space companies battle with unprecedented demand to get…

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  • ADDMAN acquires Castheon, a specialist in AM for space

    Florida-based AM service provider ADDMAN Engineering has acquired Castheon Inc., a leading provider of additive manufacturing technologies for mission-critical space applications. Through the financial support and backing of AIP, Castheon is ADDMAN’s third acquisition in 10 months. Founded in 2016 by Dr. Youping Gao, Castheon is an innovative developer of…

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  • Morf3D celebrates New Year with delivery of two SLM 500’s

    Leading Space Coast metal AM service provider Morf3D is celebrating the new year by taking delivery of two new SLM 500 3D printers while waiting for one more system, the top-of-the-line NXG XII 600, to be installed in the first half of 2022. According to Morf3D founder Ivan Madera, the…

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  • The Sapphire XC with a diagram showing its build volume

    Velo3D ships first Sapphire XC 3D printer

    Velo3D (NYSE: VLD) delivered its first Sapphire XC 3D printer. Featuring 8 1-kW lasers, the Sapphire XC, or “Extra Capacity,” is Velo3D’s newest and largest metal 3D printer, made for faster production and larger parts. The Sapphire XC is a scaled-up version of the Sapphire printer, utilizing the same Flow…

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  • Antenna and sensor components get plasma jet printed in microgravity

    Space Foundry successfully demonstrated its plasma jet printing technology in microgravity using parabolic flight (G-FORCE ONE, a specially modified Boeing 727-200) operated by Zero Gravity Corporation. The Space Foundry team printed silver lines, pads, interdigitated electrodes and a wifi-antenna. The development of plasma jet printing for space applications is part…

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  • ESA looks to build new home in space with off-Earth manufacturing

    Activities are set to intensify in 2022, as we get closer to the date (2024) that ESA and NASA have planned for humanity’s return to the Moon. The ESA Discovery program has been supporting groups from industry and academia to develop technologies for off-Earth manufacturing. Last November, a public online symposium…

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  • Singapore’s first 3D printed artefact to be launched to the moon

    The Moon Gallery Foundation is developing an art gallery to be sent to the Moon, contributing to the establishment of the first lunar outpost and permanent museum on Earth’s only natural satellite. The international initiative will see one hundred artworks from artists around the world integrated into a 10 cm…

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  • Orbex completes installation of M4K system from AMCM

    After receiving a truckload of giant boxes a few weeks ago, Orbex is now operating the new custom-made M4K 3D printer from AMCM Gmbh, which had been commissioned in February 2021. The machine, a modified version of the EOS M400 with a larger build volume, is now printing full-scale monobody…

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  • Redwire to provide 3D printing for Blue Origin’s Orbital Reef station

    Blue Origin and Sierra Space revealed their plans for Orbital Reef, a commercially developed, owned, and operated space station to be built in low Earth orbit. The station will open the next chapter of human space exploration and development by facilitating the growth of a vibrant ecosystem and business model…

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