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.

  • ICON awarded $57.2 million from NASA for in-space construction. Project Olympus focusses on the development of space-based construction.

    ICON awarded $57.2 million from NASA for in-space construction

    ICON, a leader in advanced construction technologies and large-scale 3D printing, received a contract awarded under Phase III of NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The nearly $60 million contract builds upon previous NASA and Department of Defense funding for ICON’s Project Olympus to research and develop space-based construction…

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  • Relativity Space shows off (horizontal) Stargate 4th Generation

    Relativity Space, the first company to 3D print rockets and build the largest metal 3D printers in the world, unveiled the latest iteration of its first-of-its-kind proprietary manufacturing platform, Stargate 4th Generation metal 3D printers. These printers will underpin both the development and rate production of Terran R, Relativity’s fully…

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  • Orbex secures £40.4 million in series C funding

    UK-based spaceflight company Orbex has secured £40.4 million for its Series C funding round, led by a new investor, the Scottish National Investment Bank. The new round of funding will allow the company to scale up its resources as it counts down to the first vertical launch from UK soil,…

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  • Launcher successfully tests E-2 engine turbopump

    In the latest test of its E-2 rocket engine for the U.S. Space Force, Launcher demonstrated the capabilities of its E-2 engine turbopump, recording the highest performance of a kerosene rocket engine turbopump ever manufactured in the United States (above, a video of the 2-minute test performed on September 22,…

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  • Relativity to expand rocket engine test facility at Stennis

    Relativity Space, the first company to 3D print rockets and build the largest metal 3D printers in the world, today detailed its plans to operate one of the largest rocket engine test facilities in the United States. Through an agreement with NASA, Relativity is significantly expanding its facilities and infrastructure…

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  • Nikon’s AM shopping spree continues with Optisys

    After entering the AM market both directly (with internally developed solutions, including metrology) and through major acquisitions (aerospace AM service provider Morf3D and laser PBF hardware manufacturer SLM Solutions) Nikon Corporation has now acquired its first AM application developer, Optisys, Inc. The Utah-based company is a global leader in the…

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  • Martian rock-metal composite could enable 3D printing on Mars. WSU researchers have printed Martian regolith mixed with a titanium alloy.

    Martian rock-metal composite could enable 3D printing on Mars

    A small amount of simulated crushed Martian rock, mixed with a titanium alloy, has been used to make a strong, high-performance material that could one day be used to 3D print tools or rocket parts on Mars. The parts were made by Washington State University (WSU) researchers with as little…

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  • Scaling metal AM to enable European NewSpace

    3dpbm is looking forward to catching up with Velo3D, as additive manufacturing continues to play a key role in enabling the rapid design, development, and production of complex engine, rocket, and satellite parts. Considering that AM can be used to produce the complex geometries that help make rocket parts and…

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  • Get ready for the SLS launch targeting the Moon on August 29th

    Around 7:30 a.m. EDT the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft for the Artemis I mission arrived atop Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida after a nearly 10-hour journey from the Vehicle Assembly Building. The launch is scheduled for Aug. 29 at 8:33 a.m (a two-hour launch…

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  • NASA's BIG Idea Challenge asks for Moon-based AM solutions that would allow infrastructure needed for a lunar base to be made locally.

    NASA’s BIG Idea Challenge asks for Moon-based AM solutions

    NASA’s 2023 annual Breakthrough, Innovative, and Game-Changing (BIG) Idea Challenge is asking university students to design a metal production pipeline on the Moon – from extracting metal from lunar minerals to creating structures and tools. The ability to extract metal and build needed infrastructure on the Moon advances the Artemis…

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