Mar. 21, 2015 | By Alec

3D printing is going to space. More and more aerospace industries have been incorporating 3D printing technology into its prototyping and manufacturing processes over the past few years, and now Airbus Defence and Space are joining them. The British company has announced that a new generation of telecommunications satellites they are producing for Eurostar are to feature several space qualified aluminum components that have been made with 3D printing technology.

These parts are the result of a two year research and development program that has been taking place under the supervision of the British National Space Technology Programme and in collaboration with Innovate UK and the UK Space Agency. These parts for the E3000 satellites can reportedly not be manufactured with traditional production methods. Selective laser melting technology will be used to, among others, create structural brackets from aluminum alloy. 3D printed in one piece, these brackets will weigh up to 35% less than a previous model and will even be up to 40% stiffer. 3D printing methods have also enabled engineers to produce these parts in a single iteration, while conventional methods required four parts and even 44 rivets. 3D printing also reportedly results in lest waste.

The parts themselves were made in Newbury. The engineers working with these parts were reportedly thrilled by their quality and innovative potential. Amy Glover, who is the Senior Spacecraft Structures Engineer for the project said: ‘Producing the first flight qualified ALM component is a major milestone and the result of two years of great teamwork funded by Innovate UK in partnership with our suppliers. Through developing and proving the design and manufacturing process, which significantly reduces the testing required, we can now look at what other opportunities there are for ALM components that will be lighter and quicker to manufacture.’

The parts will be specifically used for mounting telemetry and telecommand (TMTC) antennas onto the actual satellite. Initial test flights have already been successfully completed, so these 3D printed parts are ready to be attached to the actual satellite. However, the launch of the satellite has been scheduled for early 2017. The satellite itself is intended to provide laser communications in space with rates of up to 1.8 gigabits per second and should improve communications between satellites and earth.

The excellent results of these tests have already encouraged Airbus Defence and Space to expand their 3D printed manufacturing into other areas of aerospace production. Plans are currently in the works for 3D printing waveguides, heat pipes, propulsion components, secondary structures and tanks. 3D printing technology is thus set to play a significant role in the expanding British aerospace industry. According to Tim Just, the Head of Space at Innovate UK told reporters that the sector currently employs more than 34,000 people directly and a indirectly sustains a further 72,000 jobs. ‘We at Innovate UK are determined to maximize the opportunities for companies big and small to build a UK space supply chain and build the new jobs of tomorrow.’ 



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


Maybe you also like:


Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to Feeds twitter facebook   

About provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive