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Bigger 3D printed parts in space

by • July 12, 2016 • No Comments

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Thales Alenia Space and Poly-Shape SAS have joined forces to turn it into the biggest qualified metal printed part for a satellite. The antenna supports for two separate satellites have broken new ground for additive building and may be the impetus we require to get whole craft printed in the next.

French company Poly-Shape has not long ago generated parts for South Korean communications satellites Koreasat-5A and Koreasat-7. The latter is set to go into orbit in 2017 and can provide communications for South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia and India. Koreasat-5A can cater to Japan, Indochina, Korea and the Middle East.

They’re sizeable and light

Both parties saw the future for quite sizeable additive manufactured parts on the satellites. With the assist of powder bed-based laser melting, the team have generated antenna supports that are 447×204.5x391mm3 and weigh in at only 1.13kg.

The savings were worthwhile and it went beyond mass. They include:

  • 22% less mass.
  • 30% lower costs.
  • Much faster production time.
  • One part instead of nine.

The previous assembly required a worthwhile amount of assembly post-production. It required a bespoke casting and nine separate pieces, compared to one part with additive building, so the advantages are compelling.

Aluminium is the weapon of choice

Poly-Shape uses aluminum for a sizeable number of its parts due to the light mass and thermal conductivity. “As a rule of thumb, the actual costs of putting 1kg into orbit are around €20,000 ($22,000),” said Florence Montredon, Head of AM at Thales Alenia Space. “So equite gram quite does count. The starting mass of the two new satellites is around 3500kg.”

Inevitably, for any aerospace application, the parts have to be thoroughly tested and the validation system assures that every part has high durablity, rigidity and corrosion resistance. Satellites can remain in service for decades and they have to endure brutal conditions. A easy failure can put an entire satellite out of action and that can cost millions of dollars, so it stands to reason that every and equite part has to be as sturdy as it reasonably can be.

Cleaning up the pores

The porosity of 3D printed metals has been a cause for concern, but with this production method the team managed to achieve porosity levels of less than 1%. Both the shear and tensile durablity were well in excess of the required specifications. A CT scan announced a tiny crack and minor deviations in the geometry, but these were corrected and the parts passed the follow-up inspection with flying colors.

3D printing is perfect for such limited runs of parts and can actually assist with the evolution of satellites and other aerospace components.

With traditional production methods, once the casting is achieve, there has to be a compelling reason to alter the create. There are worthwhile costs and time constraints involved, so there has to be a unquestionably described benefit that is worth the investment. With 3D printing, the parts can continuously evolve with minimal extra
cost beyond the testing required to validate the new part.

Juno relies on 3D printed parts in a brutal environment

Additive building is an accepted fact

So 3D printing can assist to speed up development in a number of ways and it’s great to see that the parts are now building their way into space and are well beyond the test phase.

Juno, that not long ago entered Jupiter’s atmosphere, showcases 3D printed wave manual brackets. NASA is via 3D printing as a matter of course and Made in Space now has a commercial printing device on the International Space Station that can inevitably donate parts for satellites and other craft.

So additive building is becoming a fact of life in the aerospace industry. We don’t ponder it can be that long preceding an entire printed craft breveryed the atmosphere and takes 3D printing to the final frontier, and beyond.


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