Family-owned metal manufacturing network Samuel, Son & Co. provides industrial products and related value-added services all across North America, and one of its most important company divisions is Burloak Technologies, which was responsible for establishing the first full advanced manufacturing and production additive manufacturing center in Canada back in 2014. This Canadian 3D printing leader was founded in Ontario in 2005, and offers design and engineering services for a variety of technologies, including additive manufacturing, high precision CNC machining, materials development, metrology, and post-processing, to companies in multiple sectors, including automotive, industrial, aerospace, and space. To that end, it recently announced a five year agreement with Canadian technology firm MDA, which provides innovative solutions to government and commercial space and defense markets.
These two companies are partnering up to 3D print components and parts for applications in satellite antennae that will be sent to outer space.
“Over the last two years we have worked closely with MDA’s Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue business to apply and evolve additive manufacturing to their product offerings. This collaboration has allowed us to optimize antenna designs in terms of size, mass and performance to create a new set of possibilities for the industry,” Colin Osborne, Samuel’s President and Chief Executive Officer, said in a press release.
Spacecraft Interface Bracket for an antenna
This collaboration seems to be a continuation of an existing partnership between the two companies. In the summer of 2019, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) awarded Burloak and MDA a two-year project under its Space Technology Development Program (STDP) for the purposes of using 3D printing to develop RF satellite communication sub-systems. As part of that project, Burloak, which is a member of GE Additive’s Manufacturing Partner Network, scaled up AM application to create more complex sub-system components, using flight-certified material processes for titanium and aluminum.
MDA, a Maxar company founded back in 1969, is well-known for its abilities in a wide array of applications, including communication satellite payloads, defense and maritime systems, geospatial imagery products and analytics, radar satellites and ground systems, space robotics and sensors, surveillance and intelligence systems, and antennas and subsystems. The last of these capabilities will obviously serve MDA well in its latest venture.
As of now, the two companies have successfully completed multiple combined efforts which have resulted in 3D printed parts being more readily accepted for use in the unforgiving conditions of outer space.
“With challenging technological needs, it’s important that we find the right partner to help us fully leverage the potential of additive manufacturing for space applications,” Mike Greenley, Chief Executive Officer of MDA, said. “We’re confident Burloak Technologies is the ideal supplier to continue supporting our efforts. This collaboration is a perfect example of partnerships that MDA develops under its LaunchPad program.”
(Image courtesy of MDA)
As part of this new agreement, MDA and Burloak will continue working together in order to improve upon the manufacturability and design of multiple antenna technologies through the use of additive manufacturing. We’ve seen that using 3D printing to fabricate components for satellite, and other types, of antenna can reduce the cost and mass of the parts, which is critically important for space communication applications. As a whole, the technology is transforming how we build complex space systems.
Scientific discoveries and research missions beyond Earth’s surface are quickly moving forward. Advancements in the fields of research, space medicine, life, and physical sciences, are taking advantage of the effects of microgravity to find solutions to some big problems here on Earth. Researchers in 3D printing and bioprinting have taken advantage of space facilities that are dedicated to conducting multiple experiments in orbit, such as investigating microgravity’s effects on the growth of three-dimensional, human-like tissues, creating high-quality protein crystals that will help scientists develop more effective drugs, and even growing meat with 3D printing technology.
The BioFabrication Facility (BFF) by Techshot and nScrypt (Credit: Techshot)
On November 2, 2019, a Northrop Grumman Antares rocket successfully launched a Cygnus cargo spacecraft on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The payload aboard the Cygnus included supplies for the 3D BioFabrication Facility (BFF), like human cells, bioinks, as well as new 3D printed ceramic fluid manifolds that replaced the previously used that were printed out of polymers. According to Lithoz – the company behind the 3D printed ceramic fluid manifolds – they are enabling advancements in bioprinting at the ISS.
The additive manufactured ceramics have been in service since November 2019 and Lithoz claims they have proven to provide better biocompatibility than printed polymers, resulting in larger viable structures.
Lithoz, a company specializing in the development and production of materials and AM systems for 3D printing of bone replacements and high-performance ceramics, printed the ceramic manifolds using lithography-based ceramic manufacturing (LCM) on a high-resolution CeraFab printer in collaboration with Techshot, one of the companies behind the development of the BFF. Moreover, the ceramic fluid manifolds are used inside bioreactors to provide nutrients to living materials in space by the BFF.
Testing of the ceramic 3D printed manifolds is focusing on biocompatibility, precision, durability, and overall fluid flow properties; and the latest round of microgravity bioprinting in December yielded larger biological constructs than the first BFF attempts in July.
NASA engineer Christina Koch works with the BioFabrication Facility in orbit (Credit: NASA)
Techshot and Lithoz engineers and scientists worked together to optimize the design and the manufacturing processes required to make it. Techshot Senior Scientist Carlos Chang reported that “it’s been an absolute pleasure working with Lithoz.”
While Lithoz Vice President Shawn Allan suggested that “their expertise in ceramic processing really made these parts happen. The success of ceramic additive manufacturing depends on working together with design, materials, and printing. Design for ceramic additive manufacturing principles was used along with print parameter control to achieve Techshot’s complex fluid-handling design with the confidence needed to use the components on ISS.”
Headquartered in Vienna, Austria, and founded in 2011, Lithoz offers applications and material development to its customers in cooperation with renowned research institutes all over the world, benefiting from a variety of materials ranging from alumina, zirconia, silicon nitride, silica-based for casting-core applications through medical-grade bioceramics.
This work, in particular, highlighted an ideal use case for ceramic additive manufacturing to enable the production of a special compact device that could not be produced without additive manufacturing while enabling a level of bio-compatibility and strength not achievable with printable polymers. Lithoz reported that Techshot engineers were able to interface the larger bio-structures with the Lithoz-printed ceramic manifolds and that the next steps will focus on optimized integration of these components and longer culturing of the printed biological materials. While conditioned human tissues from this mission are expected to return to Earth in early 2020 for evaluation.
Back in July 2019, Gene Boland, chief scientist at Techshot, and Ken Church, chief executive officer at nScrypt, discussed the BFF at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Port Canaveral, Florida, how they planned to use the BFF in orbit to print cells (extracellular matrices), grow them and have them mature enough so that when they return to Earth researchers can encounter a close to full cardiac strength. Church described how a tissue of this size has never been grown here on Earth, let alone in microgravity. The 3D BFF is the first-ever 3D printer capable of manufacturing human tissue in the microgravity condition of space. Utilizing adult human cells (such as pluripotent or stem cells), the BFF can create viable tissue in space through a technology that enables it to precisely place and build ultra-fine layers of bioink – layers that may be several times smaller than the width of a human hair – involving the smallest print nozzles in existence.
Flight engineer Andrew Morgan works with the BioFabrication Facility (Credit: NASA)
Experts suggest that bioprinting without gravity eliminates the risk of collapse, enabling organs to grow without the need for scaffolds, offering a great alternative to some of the biggest medical challenges, like supplying bioprinted organs, providing a solution to the shortage of organs.
In 2006, NASA selected Lockheed Martin to design, develop, and build Orion, set to embark on both manned and unmanned missions, it is the agency’s newest deep space exploration spaceship that will eventually carry astronauts from the Earth to the Moon, and back. As part of a plan to extend a sustained human presence beyond low Earth orbit (LEO), advance commerce and science in space, the Artemis program is the next step in human space exploration and a part of NASA’s broader Moon to Mars approach. In 2022, the Orion crew capsule is expected to take astronauts on a ride beyond LEO, to the Moon and back, and in five years it will transport the next people to a lunar orbital post.
The Orion crew module for Exploration Mission 1 that will launch atop NASA’s Space Launch System rocket on its first uncrewed integrated flight (Image credit: NASA)
Last September, NASA, and Lockheed finalized a contract for the production and operations of six Orion spacecraft missions with an option to order up to 12 in total. The agency’s Orion Production and Operations Contract (OPOC) is an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract for NASA to issue both cost-plus-incentive-fee and firm-fixed-price orders. Initially, NASA has ordered three Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions III through V for $2.7 billion. Then in 2022, the agency plans to order three additional Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions VI through VIII for $1.9 billion. Up to six additional Orion spacecraft may be ordered under the IDIQ contract through 2030, leveraging spacecraft production cost data from the previous six missions to enable the lowest possible unit prices.
During an interview with Lockheed Martin Space’ specialists Brian Kaplun, Manager of the Additive Manufacturing Lab, and Colin Sipe, Orion Crew Systems Senior Manager, 3DPrint.com delved into the makings of America’s next spacecraft for a new generation of explorers.
How has additive manufacturing helped in the creation of more efficient spacecraft?
“One of the tenants of advanced manufacturing is to increase the cost and the schedule efficiency for any of our platforms, including Orion, and doing so in a way that, at the very least, maintains parity from a technical perspective but in many cases enhances that. So a lot of the work we’ve done with Orion was targeted to allow for a more efficiently reusable, cost-competitive and faster time to delivery spacecraft that will have a better technical performance. For example our docking hatch covers were printed in a cost and schedule effective manner; additionally, thanks to a new ESD compliant polymer (a type of no-static plastic) we provided more technical performance as well,” suggested Kaplun. “AM is one tool in the advance manufacturing toolbox that really allows us to hit all three of those valuable points. The plan is to continue creating AM components that we already utilized and look at increasing the number.”
While Colin Sipe explained that “we do a lot of parts that would be traditionally difficult to produce, such as structural components and brackets, different parts to channel airflow, or fuel containers, like hydrogen fuel tanks. Moreover, on the seats that the astronauts will use on Orion, we 3D printed different spacers (parts that go between the edge of the seat and the hip of the astronaut) and those come in various sizes based on the astronaut using it. We have to be able to accommodate from 1 to 99th percentile of the average American size individual.”
Do 3D printed parts withstand some of the harshest conditions in space?
“We fully qualify any of our spacecraft and platforms, and it is a qualification born of many years of doing this. On 2011 we launched the first-ever 3D printed part going to outer space on our Juno mission and right now those parts are orbiting the gas giant. So just as rigorous as we did in 2011, here in the last throes of 2019 we have to go through and really qualify any of the Orion parts. Even more so, with future manned missions, we are going to further stress those qualifications. Its a challenge that we are very experienced in and really believe we are up for,” claimed Kaplun. “Experience in any way, shape or form is going to be a competitive advantage for Lockheed.”
How do you choose the design for the 3D printed parts?
“We have produced many different parts for our customers that almost have an organic shape to them and so if you look at some of the new designs where you are optimizing for strength in terms of weight and producibility, you will observe that they mimic the bones in your arm like a very evolved and efficient method of support. If we look at some of the structural brackets that we have done, they almost have a tree or a skeletal structure look to them, that is a very unique mindset or would have been a unique mindset when we were looking at the substractive and traditional manufacturing. But now that people are being trained for AM, we notice that there are a lot more technically complex designs. Some of the ESD parts that we made for Orion would be virtually imposible ot make any other way,” revealed Kaplun. “Now, we are able to combine a large number of other parts into one piece and eliminate a lot of the fasteners and the weight that otherwise would have been a parasitic load, providing greater opportunities to put payloads and scienitic instruments onto our platforms.”
In what way does 3D printing drive down spacecraft costs?
“We try for a really ambitious cost reduction, aiming at 50%. Over the last year, we printed roughly 6,500 parts across our entire space division. Recently we even used AM technology to develop mockups for tests, such as the toilet that will be used on Orion, called the UWMS,” proposed Sipe. “We were concerned about one area of interference so we printed the entire mockup of the toilet and put it into the flight vehicle to verify that we could reach and access the bolts. The size of that toilet is probably two feet in diameter and three feet tall, so it was a very large piece to produce.”
How does Lockheed factor in sustainability when 3D printing its pieces?
Kaplun indicated that at Lockheed, engineers are “very proud of how sustainable our technology is. Our polymer builds can be recycled and reused if needed, the powder bed processes are extremely efficient and the industry as a whole is considered very sustainable and cost-efficient from a materials perspective. Some of the waste for our additive processes can be lower than five percent. When you compare that to some of the subtractive and traditional manufacturing applications, those numbers flip completely, producing 90% waste.”
Would you be able to convey how many AM parts were used for Orion?
“We made 200 components for the Artemis II Orion spacecraft. While the Artemis I had over 100 printed pieces and the previous version had only four 3D printed parts. This reveals that only one spacecraft generation later, we were able to double the amount of 3D printed parts,” reported Sipe.
A 3D printed titanium part for NASA’s Orion spacecraft (Image credit: Lockheed Martin)
What can we expect to see during the Artemis II mission scheduled for late 2020?
“Our next mission will launch Orion on a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which will be the largest rocket ever built as far as liftoff power. Next year we can expect an unmaned service module to travel to the lunar orbit where it will stay for a month, carry out significant checkouts of all of our modules and will be the first launch on the new rocket. Once it returns to Earth, we will recover it, take it apart, see what we can reuse, what we need to make some improvements on, and at the same time, we’ll be getting ready for our Artemis II mission, with the first astronauts flying on 2022. Then, Artemis III in 2024, will take astronauts to Gateway, a small space station in the lunar orbit, and from there to a human landing system that will put the first woman and next man on the Moon surface. This will be the first of many missions to the Moon’s south pole, where bases and moon mining will begin,” said Sipe.
Are there more engineers interested in AM technology applications?
According to Kaplun, there has been much interest in AM: “we are witnessing a lot of students and scholars contributing to the design space, coming into our engineering and production ranks with a lot of previous work in the field, with new ideas and new abilities to utilize the tools that we can now offer.”
As an engineer, how do you change your mindset to produce something from a subtractive standpoint to an additive one?
“We are starting to corrupt the threshold as we are beginning to design parts that can only be made via the additive route, whereby in the past we would sort of take something that was designed for a normal conventional machine and then transition it to the additive world,” told Sipe. “Today we are generating designs that we know the only way they can be made is through AM. There are certain parts of the spacecraft that couldn’t be done with other technologies, such as hollow, organically grown on the printer parts that create new opportunities for us.”
3D printed Orion docking hatch cover (Image credit: Lockheed Martin)
What 3D printing technologies are being used at Lockheed?
“We have a very large gamut of different types of technologies to make the 3D printed parts for Orion, the docking hedge covers were made on Stratasys FDM printers, but we also use a lot of metal powder bed technologies in various forms as well as different polymer technologies,” the experts proposed.
3D printed Orion docking hatch cover made of PEKK thermoplastic (Image credit: Lockheed Martin)
So what lays ahead for the aerospace company?
“We just got into a long term production contract with NASA for the six upcoming spacecraft missions, so I believe it is our goal to make even more 3D printed parts for spacecraft. A big focus of the contract was to dramatically reduce per-vehicle costs and the major ways of doing that was by having reusable Orion crew modules and systems, using advanced manufacturing technologies, material and component bulk buys and an accelerated mission cadence. I consider that AM is a large part of reducing the cost and increasing the cadence of how often we fly,” enlightened Kaplun.
Both Kaplun and Sipe consider that the “Orion spacecraft is part of NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration.”
The completed Orion spacecraft crew module at the NASA Kennedy Space Center (Image credit: Lockheed Martin)
With work well underway on both the Artemis I and II rockets, with core stage assembly nearly complete at Michoud, Orion will leave Lockheed for testing at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, in Mississippi.
Sipe concluded that: “In 1981, NASA wanted to move back into deep space so since 1981 we were flying the space shuttle, and physically could not go outside the Earth’s orbit, the Apollo was the last spacecraft that physically could leave the gravity of the Earth and move into deep space, and NASA had a desire for mankind to return. Orion is the only spacecraft development that is a true exploration class spacecraft. It’s not like any other, it has unique capabilities never before seen and even though the capsule is a heritage of the Apollo mission, its actually far superior.”
A pair of researchers from Shantou University in China explored designing and manufacturing a CubeSat with 3D printing, which we have seen in the past. CubeSats, which are basically miniaturized satellites, offer plenty of advantages in space exploration, such as low cost, a short research cycle, and more lightweight construction, but conventional methods of manufacturing often negate these. Using 3D printing to make CubeSats can help achieve accurate details as well.
“With the successful development of integrated technologies, many spacecraft subsystems have been continuously miniaturized, and CubeSats have gradually become the main executors of space science exploration missions,” they wrote.
The main task driving research paper is an LEO, or Low Earth Orbit, CubeSat mission, which would need to accelerate to a maximum of 5 g during launch.
“…the internal operating temperature range of the CubeSat is from 0 to 40 °C, external temperature from -80 to 100 °C,” the researchers explained.
During the design process, the duo took into account environmental factors, the received impact load during the launch process, and the surrounding environment once the CubeSat reached orbit. Once they determined the specific design parameters, ANSYS software was used to simulate, analyze, and verify the design’s feasibility.
PLA was used to make the mini satellite, which is obviously shaped like a cube. Each cube cell, called a unit, weighs approximately 1 kg, and has sides measuring 10 cm in length.
“The framework structure for a single CubeSat provides enough internal workspace for the hardware required to run the CubeSat. Although there are various CubeSat structure designs, several consistent design guidelines can be found by comparing these CubeSats,” the researchers wrote about the structure of their CubeSat.
These guidelines include:
a cube with a side length of 100 mm
8.5 x 113.5 mm square columns placed at four parallel corners
usually made of aluminum for low cost, lightweight, easy machining
The CubeSat needs to be big enough to contain its power subsystem (secondary batteries and solar panels), in addition to the vitally important thermal subsystem, communication system for providing signal connections to ground stations back on Earth, ADCS, and CDH subsystems. It also consists of onboard antennae, radios, data circuit boards, a three-axis stability system, and autonomous navigation software.
“The adoption of this technology changes the concept of primary and secondary structure in the traditional design process, because the whole structure can be produced at the same time, which not only reduces the number of parts, reduces the need for screws and adhesion, but also improves the stability of the overall structure,” the pair wrote about using 3D printing to construct their CubeSat.
The mission overview for this 3D printed CubeSat explains that the device needs to complete performance tests on its camera payload for reliability evaluation, and test the effectiveness of any structures 3D printed “in an orbital environment.”
The Von mises stress diagram of the CubeSat structure.
In order to ensure that it’s ready to operate in LEO, the CubeSat’s structures was analyzed using ANSYS’ finite element analysis (FEA) software, and the researchers also performed a random vibration analysis, so that they can be certain it will hold up under the launch’s impact load.
“The CubeSat structure is validated by the numerical experiment. During launch process, CubeSat will be fixed inside the P-Pod, and the corresponding structural constraints should be added to the numerical model. In addition, the maximum acceleration impact during the launch process should also be considered. Static Structural module of ANSYS is used for calculation and analysis, the results show that the maximum stress of CubeSat Structure is 8.06 MPa, lower than the PLA yield strength of 40 Mpa,” the researchers explained.
Running in LEO, the 3D printed CubeSat will go through a 100°C temperature change, and the structure needs to be able to resist this, so the researchers also conducted a thermal shock test, which showed an acceptable thermal strain.
The thermal strain diagram of the CubeSat structure.
The team also conducted random vibration simulation experiments, so they could conform the structure of the 3D printed CubeSat to emission conditions. They simulated typical launch vibration characteristics, using NASA GEV qualification and acceptance as reference.
“The specific contents of the experiment include “Harmonic Response” and “Random Vibration”. Two identical harmonic response were performed before and after the random vibration test to assess the degree of structural degradation that may result from the launch load,” the researchers explained.
“This experiment helps us to evaluate the natural frequency of the structure, and the peak value indicates that the tested point (bottom panel) has reached the resonant frequency.”
Pre/Post Random Vibration test comparison between the curves of Harmonic Response.
As seen in the above figure, both the trend and peak points of the two curves are close to each other, which shows that there was no structural degradation after the vibration test, and that the structure itself conforms to launch stiffness specifications.
“As the primary performer of today’s space exploration missions, the CubeSat design considers orbit, payload, thermal balance, subsystem layout, and mission requirements. In this research, a CubeSat design for performing LEO tasks was proposed, including power budget, mass distribution, and ground testing, and the CubeSat structure for manufacturing was combined with 3D printing technology,” the researchers concluded.
“The results show that the CubeSat can withstand the launch loads without structural damage and can meet the launch stiffness specification.”
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While the majority of us are not astronauts, there is a tool that can be used in your home to make you feel like you’re just a little bit closer to the stars – the telescope. Five years ago, a group of UK researchers from the University of Sheffield, including physicist Mark Wrigley, were inspired by NASA’s Juno spacecraft to create their own DIY telescope, the PiKon, using 3D printing and a Raspberry Pi. Now, a pair of Polish scientists have followed in their footsteps with their own parametric, open source, DIY telescope with 3D printed parts.
Aleksy Chwedczuk and Jakub Bochiński wanted to help popularize astronomy by making their own semi-professional, yet affordable, telescope model for at-home use, for which people can then download the files and create on their own. Chwedczuk and Bochiński call their creation the Telescope Prime, and created the first prototype in just eight hours. The initial prototype was then used to take pictures of the moon, and the final version was finished in less than three months.
The look from the inside of the Telescope Prime
Polish 3D printing company Sygnis New Technologies offered to help the scientists create their DIY telescope by sharing their equipment.
“As Sygnis New Technologies, we are proud to say that we have participated in the Telescope Prime project by adjusting 3D models of parts of the telescope and printing them for the science duo,” Marek Kamiński, the Head of Social Media for Sygnis New Technologies, told 3DPrint.com.
Telescopes have been helping people observe outer space since the 17th century, though at that time it was reserved only for the elite citizens who could purchase the equipment. But even though there is much more variety available today, it’s still not something that is widely available – the device has many complex, interacting elements. That’s why Chwedczuk and Bochiński wanted to use 3D printing to help create a more affordable, open source version.
In a piece by Sygnis, the two scientists said, “We wanted to initiate the development of an open-project telescope that could be easily modified and expanded…
“At the same time, it should be a digital telescope – adapted to our 21st century online lifestyle, where the habit of sharing one’s experiences on the Internet is the new norm.”
The telescope model, which all together costs less than $400 to put together, is made of three main parts: the 20 cm diameter parabolic mirror (with a recommended focal length of 1 m), a Raspberry Pi microcomputer with a camera and touch display, and 3D printed parts that are used to fix the camera and the mirror. To help keep costs down, “readily available materials,” like wood, screws, and a paper tube, are used to build the Telescope Prime.
Aleksy Chwedczuk with the first prototype of the telescope
In a further effort to keep the telescope fabrication as inexpensive as possible, it does not have lenses. Light is focused in a single spot, and stops on the mirror. A boarding tube makes up the body of the device, and plywood parts are then added. The telescope can use its build-in camera to take images of the night sky, and transmit them online in real-time using the touchscreen of a computer, projector, or tablet. Additionally, you can easily increase and reduce the size of the telescope – just enter the mirror’s size into the program, and all of its dimensions will be automatically converted.
“The creators had to take into account the realities of the 21st century, modern issues of the popularization of astronomy, also among the youngest amateurs of the starry sky, as well as the availability of materials for the construction of the telescope,” Sygnis wrote. “Telescope Prime is an innovative idea that reflects the needs and possibilities of an astronomer enthusiast of the second decade of the 21st century.”
The open source models for the telescope parts, which are available for download on the Telescope Prime website, were prepared in advance for 3D printing, so they didn’t need any corrections later. These elements were 3D printed on FlashForge 3D printers out of Orbi-Tech PLA material, and it took a total of 156 hours of printing to create the 17 telescope parts.
The final version of the Telescope Prime
Kamiński told 3DPrint.com that the two scientists are currently “promoting the project on Polish universities, schools and science institutes.” This makes sense, as the Telescope Prime website explains that the project was “initiated and fully carried out” on the grounds of the Akademeia High School in Warsaw.
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3D bioprinting company Allevi, formerly known as BioBots, is on a mission to make it easier for scientists and researchers to design and engineer 3D tissues. The company, which was founded four years ago, develops 3D bioprinters, software, and bioinks for the purposes of solving the most difficult biomedical problems that plague our world, such as disease and eliminating the organ waiting list.
But now, Allevi is preparing to take its 3D bioprinting work out of this world with a new initiative.
“While we continue to understand the capabilities and constraints of 3d biofabrication here on Earth, the ability to explore cellular function in space could afford us novel discoveries of organ form and function that have never before been studied,” Allevi wrote.
Now, Made In Space and Allevi are working together to develop the Allevi ZeroG – the first 3D bioprinter in space. The two companies jointly launched the initiative at the recent ISS Conference in San Francisco, and even found the first two users of the new 3D bioprinting platform in Astronauts Mark Vendei Hei and Randy Bresnik, who Allevi says are excited to be on board.
Allevi developed a compatible extruder, fittingly called the ZeroG bio-extruder, that is able to be outfitted onto Made In Space’s Additive Manufacturing Facility currently on board the ISS. This new bio-extruder will make it possible for scientists using the Allevi 3D bioprinting platform to run experiments in space, and back home on Earth, at the same time, in order to observe and study any biological differences that happen when 3D printing with gravity and without it.
“We are excited to continue to revolutionize how we study biology, not only on the ground but now in space,” Allevi wrote. “And perhaps one day, the Allevi ZeroG will aid astronauts in 3D bioprinting replacement organs for deep space travel. We’re excited to participate in this next generation space race.”
NASA and companies like Made In Space are already hard at work researching and creating tools to use and places to live in outer space. But if this Allevi initiative is successful, having the ability to create 3D bioprinted organs in space will bring us another step closer to living among the stars.
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In order to hold up under difficult launch conditions and decade-long missions in the zero gravity conditions of outer space, satellite fuel tanks need to be both lightweight and strong. Titanium is an obvious choice of material, but it can take over a year to acquire 4-foot-diameter, 4-inch-thick titanium forgings, which also increases the overall cost of the tank. Additionally, if traditional manufacturing methods are used to fabricate these forgings, over 80% of the material is wasted.
This infographic shows the scale of the 3D printed domes, their placement on the tank, and overall location within an LM 2100 satellite.
That’s why Lockheed Martin chose to employ 3D printing to create a record-setting, 46-inch-diameter titanium dome for its satellite fuel tanks.
“Our largest 3-D printed parts to date show we’re committed to a future where we produce satellites twice as fast and at half the cost. And we’re pushing forward for even better results,” Rick Ambrose, the Executive Vice President of Lockheed Martin Space, explained. “For example, we shaved off 87 percent of the schedule to build the domes, reducing the total delivery timeline from two years to three months.”
The new fuel tank for Lockheed Martin’s largest satellites have 3D printed domes integrated into the body to cap them off.
The tank is made up of a traditionally manufactured, variable-length titanium cylinder, which is capped by two 3D printed domes; these three pieces are then welded together to make up the final product. Technicians at Lockheed Martin’s Denver facility fabricate the domes using Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing (EBAM) technology on a large 3D printer.
By 3D printing the domes, there is no longer any material waste, and the titanium is available to use with no wait time, which lowers the delivery time of the satellite tank from two years to just three months. This in turn helps the company cut its satellite schedule and costs by 50%.
“We self-funded this design and qualification effort as an investment in helping our customers move faster and save costs. These tanks are part of a total transformation in the way we design and deliver space technology,” said Ambrose. “We’re making great strides in automation, virtual reality design and commonality across our satellite product line. Our customers want greater speed and value without sacrificing capability in orbit, and we’re answering the call.”
These 3D printed tank domes are far bigger in size for the company’s qualified 3D printing materials – previously, its largest part was an electronics enclosure for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite program that was only the size of a toaster. That makes these domes, which are large enough to hold nearly 75 gallons of liquid, a pretty big leap.
A Lockheed Martin engineer inspects one of the 3D printed dome prototypes at the company’s space facility in Denver.
The final rounds of quality testing for the satellite fuel tank and its 3D printed domes were completed earlier this month, which finally ends a multi-year development program with the goal of successfully creating giant, high-pressure tanks to carry fuel on satellites. Lockheed Martin technicians and engineers spared nothing on their quest to ensure that the tanks would meet, and even exceed, the reliability and performance required by NASA, as even the tiniest of flaws or leaks could spell disaster for a satellite’s operations.
The structure of the vessel was “rigorously evaluated,” according to a release, and the company’s techs ran it through an entire suite of tests in order to demonstrate its repeatability and high tolerances. Lockheed Martin is now offering the large satellite fuel tank, complete with its two 3D printed domes, as one of the standard product options for its 2100 satellite buses.
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