Outer space developments in AM by Lockheed Martin

additive manufacturing in outer space developements

Whether it’s at work beneath our feet or thousands of miles above our heads, additive manufacturing has emerged as a game changing technology that cuts cycle time and brings affordability to production. In a forthcoming issue of 3D fab + print magazine, Lauren Duda of Space Systems, Lockheed Martin Corporation tells us how Lockheed Martin is pioneering new methods for additive manufacturing at its numerous Space Systems facilities across the country and its Advanced Technology Center (ATC) in California.

At Lockheed Martin innovations are brought to life through discovering faster, smarter ways to manufacture spacecraft that will solve the mysteries of the universe.
Within additive manufacturing lies 3-D printing, which has four essential categories: small metal, small polymer, big metal and big polymer. 3-D printing works by taking a material—a titanium wire or polymer powder, for example—melting it little-by-little with a laser or electron beam and depositing the material where it needs to be according to a computer- generated blueprint. This is done until thousands upon thousands of 2-D printed layers create the desired product. The item—a bracket, for example — is then refined by smoothing out the surface, then rigorously tested. The refinement step is of critical importance as even the slightest particle disturbance must be minimized to allow for safe space flight. Did you know that there are already 3-D printed parts flying in outer space? The following are a few ways in which additive manufacturing has progressed “out of this world”.

A2100 Universal backing structure connectors
The A2100 satellite brings world-class telecommunications capability to customers around the world. The antenna — which plays a key role in distributing and receiving broadcast signals—is supported by a universal backing structure. The juncture points (pictured) for the antenna reflector are connected by sheer tie fittings 3-D printed at Lockheed Martin out of titanium powder and an electron beam. Additively manufacturing the sheer tie fittings resulted in a 43 percent reduction in cycle time compared to traditional machining methods.

Juno Waveguide brackets
Launched in the summer of 2011 and scheduled to arrive at Jupiter in July 2016, Juno is the first Lockheed Martin spacecraft ever to fly 3-D printed parts—a set of eight titanium waveguide brackets, to be precise. These brackets were used to attach the waveguide, a rectangular pipe used for conducting radio frequency signals between spacecraft components. Juno will intensely study Jupiter’s characteristics to help us better understand the planet’s origin and shed light on the formation of our greater solar system. Once the spacecraft reaches Jupiter, it—and the brackets—will have travelled more than 1.7 billion miles in space.

Photo: The Orion spacecraft, designed to transport humans to Mars, features 3-D printed alloy EFT-1 Vents. Capsule image © U.S. Navy. Vent image © Lockheed Martin.