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.

  • Nanoracks Space Outpost Europe signs MoU with Anisoprint. Focusing on adjusting CFC technology for microgravity, and deploying it in orbit.

    Nanoracks Space Outpost Europe signs MoU with Anisoprint

    Anisoprint, a CFC 3D printing solution provider, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Nanoracks Space Outpost Europe, a leader in the commercial utilization of the International Space Station, to strengthen its position as a space technology developer and become a part of the low Earth orbit and lunar economy.…

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  • Freeform printing of satellite antennas in outer space. Mitsubishi Electric harnesses solar radiation for low-power 3D printing in vacuum.

    Freeform printing of satellite antennas in outer space

    Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, one of the world leaders in the manufacturing and sales of electrical and electronic products and systems, has developed an on-orbit additive manufacturing technology that uses photosensitive resin and solar ultraviolet light for freeform printing of satellite antennas in the vacuum of outer space. The novel technology…

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  • Alba Orbital’s printed PocketQube deployer achieves new goal. The deployer was 3D printed by CRP Technology using Windform XT 2.0.

    Alba Orbital’s printed PocketQube deployer achieves new goal

    Alba Orbital’s PocketQube deployer, 3D printed by CRP Technology using Windform XT 2.0 as the printing material, has reached a new milestone. It has successfully taken part in Rocket Lab’s latest space mission from New Zealand, deploying four PocketQubes into a circular orbit. It was also a recovery mission where,…

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  • Artemis mission gets boost from additive manufacturing

    Los Angeles-based Aerojet Rocketdyne—a manufacturer with a proud heritage in spaceflight and rocket propulsion—is a key supplier of systems for NASA’s (and ESA’s) long-awaited Artemis mission, which is expected to bring humanity back to the Moon, this time to stay. Additive manufacturing – and particularly technology from Velo3D, also in…

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  • Orbex unveils Prime orbital space rocket

    Orbex has unveiled the first full-scale prototype of the Prime orbital space rocket on its dedicated launch pad publicly for the first time. The unveiling of a new generation of European launch vehicles – designed to launch a new category of very small satellites to orbit – represents a major…

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  • Morf3D becomes one of 10 AM companies to receive Nadcap for AM

    Morf3D, Inc., a subsidiary of Nikon Corporation that specializes in AM optimization and engineering for the aerospace, defense, and space industries, has received National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program (Nadcap) certification. Morf3D is now one of 10 companies across the globe with this highly coveted certification for additive manufacturing.…

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  • Launcher’s 3D printed E-2 liquid rocket engine achieves full thrust. Successfully demonstrating in a test fire at NASA Stennis Space Center.

    Launcher’s 3D printed E-2 liquid rocket engine achieves full thrust

    Launcher’s 3D printed E-2 liquid rocket engine successfully demonstrated nominal thrust, pressure, and oxidizer/fuel mixture ratio for the first time in a test fire at NASA Stennis Space Center. E-2 is a closed cycle 3D printed, high-performance liquid rocket engine in development for the Launcher Light launch vehicle (inaugural launch…

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  • Additive Industries inaugurates its new UK development center

    Dr. Raymond Clinton (Corky) Clinton Jr. (NASA) and Dr. Thomas Rohr (ESA) spoke at the official opening of Additive Industries’ new Process and Application Development Centre in Filton, near Bristol. Corky Clinton works for NASA as the Associate Director of the Science and Technology Office. Thomas Rohr is Head of…

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  • Lockheed Martin Space adopts Velo3D AM solution

    Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) revealed that its Lockheed Martin’s Space division is now using Velo3D’s end-to-end additive manufacturing solution for its Additive Design & Manufacturing Center, which pilots new additive manufacturing technologies for production deployments. Following in the footsteps of younger AM companies that have embraced the technology, such as…

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  • For the development of advanced 3D printed phased array antennas

    Lockheed Martin Space partners with SWISSto12 and CAES

    SWISSto12, a leading developer of advanced engineered radio frequency (RF) products for telecommunications, EW and radar applications in the aerospace industry, and their US-based partner, CAES, have been selected by Lockheed Martin Space business to develop advanced, 3D printed, phased array antennas for upcoming satellite missions. SWISSto12 and CAES have…

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