Oerlikon AM 3D printing rocket components for United Launch Alliance

Oerlikon AM, the additive division of Swiss tech group Oerlikon, has announced a partnership with United Launch Alliance (ULA) at Formnext today. The AM company will additively manufacture and provide qualification and flight components to ULA—one of the world’s most recognized launch service providers—for its next-generation Vulcan Centaur rocket.

With over 130 launches under its belt and with a 100% mission success rate, it is no wonder that Colorado-based ULA is one of the leading launch service providers. The company, which serves customers in the U.S. government, including the DoD and NASA, manufactures and launches various rocket vehicles built for orbiting spacecraft.

Like many other companies in the space industry, ULA has come to recognize the benefits of additive manufacturing in the sector, including reduced lead times and optimized part performance.

Oerlikon’s new facility in Huntersville, NC opened in May 2019

As part of the strategic partnership, ULA will design and develop the qualification and flight components, while Oerlikon will provide support with Design for AM optimization, 3D printing and post-processing. The components will be printed from nickel alloy 718 at Oerlikon AM’s new AS9100-certified metal additive manufacturing facility in Huntersville, North Carolina. Ultimately, the finished parts will be delivered to ULA’s 1.6-million-square-foot facility in Decatur, Alabama.

Oerlikon and United Launch Alliance have already begun their collaboration, completing a six-month process qualification for the 3D printed parts to prove they were up to ULA’s requirements and standards for test and flight hardware. The components are destined for ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket, which is expected to see its first launch in 2021.

“We are very excited about this alliance, which allows us to manufacture a number of flight components for ULA,” commented Dr. Sven Hicken, Head of Oerlikon’s Additive Manufacturing Business Unit. “ULA is a leader in using additive manufacturing to reduce production lead times and increase performance in launch vehicles. Vulcan Centaur will advance the use of AM in rockets, and we are looking forward to the launch in 2021.”

Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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