On July 23, China launched the impressive Long March-5 carrier rocket into space, sending the Tianwen-1 Mars probe into orbit. Not only have we learned that the launch from the Wenchang Space Launch Center was a success, but also that Chinese 3D printing specialist Farsoon had an important role to play in the development of the rocket.
The Long March-5 rocket was designed to carry 25 tons of payload in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and 14 tons in geo-synchronous transfer orbit. To account for these payloads, the rocket is substantial: it has a diameter of 5 meters and four 3.35 meter boosters. The rocket’s design also integrates a multi-stage structure, which enables it to efficiently jettison different components until the intended velocity and orbital height is achieved.
It was in developing the multi-stage structure that Farsoon’s additive manufacturing was employed, specifically its large-format HT1001P system for polymer laser sintering. The staging development process consists of designing an inter-stage structural system with highly functional and durable components. One of these is the firing skirt, which is a temporary structure between the stage and the aft support ring that protects the unlocking device. The firing skirt is cylindrical and equipped with internal and external lift points to enable stage handling.
With the Long March-5 rocket, the development team designed an optimized static firing skirt using the Farsoon HT1001P 3D printer and FS3300PA material. The system’s large 1,000 x 500 x 450 build space and rapid print rates enabled the Long March-5 team to rapidly iterate parts for the aluminum firing skirt. In total, the temporary structure was made up of 50 pieces (measuring about 370 x 100 x 125 mm each) in just 48 hours. These pieces were ultimately used to assemble the cylinder structure measuring 5,000 mm in diameter.
Farsoon’s FS3300PA material was chosen for the project because of its good strength and toughness, as well as its compatibility with finishing processes, including waterproofing and salt spray, to improve its resistance against extreme atmospheric corrosion.
Thanks in part to the rapid turnaround of additive manufacturing, The Long March-5 was launched on schedule and has succeeded in sending the Tianwen-1 into orbit. In fact, the Mars rover transporter successfully completed its first orbital correction on August 2, 2020. This was after over 230 hours in space. The Tianwen-1 is expected to reach Mars’ orbit by February 2021 and make its landing on the Red Planet in May 2021, potentially becoming the first Mars expedition to achieve orbiting, landing and roving in a single mission.