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ESA Opens New Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory for Study of 3D Printing, Other Advanced Technologies in Space Missions

by • July 19, 2016 • No Comments

esa2All eyes have been on NASA lately, with the July 4th arrival of the Juno spacecraft to Jupiter’s orbit making international (perhaps interplanetary?!) news. Similar to just about all of NASA’s endeavors these days, Juno brought with it several 3D printed components, the initially interplanetary spacecraft to do so. The European Space Agency (ESA), yet, has never been one to let NASA hog the headlines, and yesterday they proudly revealed the inauguration of their new Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory, that can be dedicated to the study of 3D printing and other high end making technologies for next space missions.

ESA-RAL Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory inauguration at STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory on 19th July 2016. Image shows Johann-Dietrich Woerner, ESA Director General speaking at the event.

Jan Woerner at the Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory inauguration

ESA Director General Jan Woerner has expressed several bold ideas relating to 3D printing and space in the past, which include his intention to create a 3D printed base on the moon. The Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory, that can be located at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) in Harwell, Oxfordshire, is another logistical step towards seeing those ideas as a reality.

“There’s a multitude of emerging technologies with apparent future for making stronger, lighter and cheaper spacecraft structures, but we have to be certain they are fully suitable for space with no show-stoppers,” said Andrew Barnes, who oversees the Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory. “Our laboratory aims to assess candidate materials and making systemes for space missions, pre-screening them early in their createment cycle. The outcomes received can assist instruction ESA and the wider space industry in deciding where to focus next innovation investments.”

The lab is equipped with a metal 3D printing device as well as powerful microscopes, an X-ray CT machine, and several furnaces. It is in addition set up for mechanical testing, such as micro-hardness and tensile durablity testing. Researchers can in addition take advantage of the other facilities at the RAL, which include the Central Laser Facility, the ISIS neutron and muon source, and the Diamond Light Source, along with semiconductor cleanrooms and cryogenic laboratories.

ESA-RAL Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory

ESA-RAL Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory.

“We’ve may already been via STFC’s ISIS pulsed spallation neutron source to investigate the structural integrity of friction stir welded titanium for use in spacecraft propellant tanks,” said laboratory research man Sarah Baker. “ISIS allows for residual stress meacertainments to be percreated in the bulk material via neutron diffraction.

“Friction welding involves a high speed rubbing together of metal parts pretty than the application of external heat to melt the parts. The technique should outcome in stronger welds. ISIS has allowed us to confirm this by measuring the internal stresses induced by the system to confirm the final weld high end.”

ESA-RAL Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory

A technician performs a hardness test at ESA-RAL Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory

The laboratory’s work can include a close examination of 3D printing systemes, which include create procedures, physical system parameters and materials, and their impacts on the high end of manufactured parts. The Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory is the latest addition to a network of ESA labs scattered across Europe – which include the European Space Research and Technology Centre, or ESTEC.

Located in the Netherlands, ESTEC is defined by the ESA as the “technical heart” of the European space program, and its Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory bears a sizeable load of responsibility for material and equipment testing. According to Tommaso Ghidini, ESTEC’s head of materials innovation, the Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory can contribute much needed assist to the work being done in the Netherlands.

“At ESTEC, much of the work is on a rapid-response basis to assist the needs of space projects, performing tests and failure analysis on materials and equipment, albeit at a relatively high innovation readiness level,” he said. “The Harwell facility complements ESTEC by focvia on low innovation readiness level investigations. Here, we are operating on a various basis, looking at samples right down to the nanometre scale to know their underlying structure, and how it relates to their physical properties, so we can quite donate an inside-out knowing of a candidate material or system and catch early technologies with high future for space applications.”

The new lab is part of the ESA’s Advanced Manufacturing Initiative, that was created not long ago to facilitate the adoption of – and some day create standards for – additive making and other high end making techniques across all European space programs. Discuss additional over in the ESA Advanced Manufacturing & 3D Printing forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: ESA/Images: S. Kill, STFC]