Beginning in 2022, NASA will place unmanned Orion spacecraft into lunar orbit, followed by crewed landings, construction of lunar habitats and supporting infrastructure, and ultimately, preparation for a visit to Mars.
Additive manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, is one of the technologies that enables such ambitious plans. “As with any complex endeavour, the more affordable you can make it, the greater the chance that you will ensure its completion, and the Moon is no different,” said James Horton, Aerospace Engineer and Mission Architect at Aerojet Rocketdyne. “Metal AM plays a key role in achieving these goals.”
US propulsion system manufacturer Aerojet Rocketdyne has optimized a key component of its Reaction Control System (RCS) quad thruster using additive manufacturing and nTopology’s engineering software.
Aerojet Rocketdyne’s new space engine part is now 67 percent lighter while also reducing the overall production cost of the thruster by 66 percent to enable faster and more sustainable lunar exploration.
“If we leverage the advantages that we made over the last decade in engineering software and manufacturing hardware, we can build critical subsystems at fractions of the traditional cost while improving on the performance of heritage designs,” said James Horton, Mission Architect at Aerojet Rocketdyne.
Relativity Space has the audacious goal of 3D printing 95 percent of a rocket and sending it to orbit. Getting to space is hard. But completely reinventing how rockets are manufactured at the same time? Harder. Six-year-old upstart Relativity may nail both by the end of this year.
After several years designing, building, and testing their Terran 1 rocket, they’re nearly ready to roll. This week the company gave Ars Technica a progress report—and included a pretty visual.
“…Utilising 3D printing for the Eutelsat Hotbird satellites provides major labour savings and significantly reduces the number of individual required parts, according to Gareth Penlington, the Hotbird payload manager at Airbus: “This is recognised as the first large-scale deployment of RF products using the ALM process, and it puts us in an industry-leading position for the technology’s application in producing radio frequency components.”
Lunar landers could use 3D-printed rocket engine parts that bring down manufacturing costs and production times.
NASA recently hot-fire tested a pair of 3D-printed components designed for rocket engines, a combustion chamber and nozzle. They are 3D printed out of a high-strength, hydrogen-resistant alloy and should withstand the combustion environments that until now only traditionally manufactured metal structures were able to.
The high-strength iron-nickel superalloy nozzle was printed using a method called laser powder directed energy deposition, which deposits and melts the metal powder to create freeform structures. This method let NASA turn out small- and large-scale components.
The International Space Station has continuously been home to astronauts for more than nineteen years. Astronauts conduct scientific research using dozens of special facilities aboard the space station, which also provides them with a place to eat, sleep, relax and exercise. To make all of this possible requires sending more than 7,000 pounds of spare parts to the station annually. Another 29,000 pounds of spaceflight hardware spares are stored aboard the station and another 39,000 on the ground, ready to fly if needed.
This logistics support system works well for a spacecraft that is orbiting 250 miles above Earth and readily accessible to cargo resupply missions. It is not practical for future missions to the Moon and Mars, however. Astronauts on these long voyages need to be able to make their own spare parts, tools and materials essentially on demand – both for routine needs and to adapt quickly to unforeseen ones. In-space manufacturing (ISM) using 3D printing technology could be an answer.
It lets aerospace engineers develop high-quality parts much faster than they could with traditional fabrication methods
July 2019 marked the 50-year anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. While the world has seen incredible technological and scientific strides since then, the broader space industry has been in stealth mode—exploring what’s possible, and what’s next, for humankind in space.
In 2018, the space sector grew to an incredible $3.25 billion industry. A number of different technologies are driving this rapid growth, but the most promising one is industrial-grade 3D metal printing (a.k.a. metal additive manufacturing). Once met with skepticism, 3D metal printing has proven itself to be a cost-effective and efficient way to develop production-ready parts, making it the new darling of the commercial race to space.
It’s not clear whether the additive manufacturing supply chain will expand rapidly enough to meet growing demand for 3D-printed parts for spacecraft or launch vehicles.
When companies are starting out, it’s easy for them to turn to additive manufacturing service providers for a few parts, said Scott Killian, aerospace business development manager for EOS North America. “Once companies move into production, they’re going to have to figure out whether the supply chain can still meet their needs,” he added. “There’s a lot of ebb and flow right now on getting that supply chain to ramp up.”
Many space companies work directly with EOS, a German manufacturer of 3D printing machines, or print parts on EOS equipment operated by additive manufacturing service providers. The only rocket customer Killian can discuss is Launcher. The New York company developing a 3D-printed copper bi-metal engine has agreed to a joint marketing campaign with EOS.
Michael Hollenbeck will show how Metal 3D printing will encourage mass customisation, where the constrained volume in a satellite can be filled with a high-performance antenna that conforms to the space around it and provides lower loss and higher performance.
Michael Hollenbeck, Chief Technology Officer of Optisys, Inc. will speak at Satellite 2019 about Metal 3D printing and how it can help build the smallest and lightest functional antennas in the industry.The presentation will cover how Metal 3D printing will usher in an era of mass customisation, where the constrained volume remaining in a satellite can be filled with a unique high-performance antenna that conforms to the space around it and provides a lower loss, higher performance solution than any competing alternative.
Robust and refrigerator-like, the ‘Refabricator’ is poised to lead NASA’s recycling initiative for astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Set to launch 2018, the machine is capable of crunching plastic parts back into raw materials, and 3D printing them anew as tools and spare parts.
Preparing for “space at a premium”
NASA has awarded approximately $750,000 to the Refabricator project, taken on by Seattle-based space technology company, Tethers Unlimited Inc.
Niki Werkheiser, manager of In-Space Manufacturing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center who will test the machine, comments “When we begin launching humans to destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, space will be at a premium.”
“It simply won’t be feasible to send along replacement parts or tools for everything on the spacecraft, and resupplying from Earth is cost and time prohibitive. The Refabricator will be key in demonstrating a sustainable logistics model to fabricate, recycle, and reuse parts and waste materials.”