April 30, 2014

Lockheed Martin has partnered with RedEye, a leading additive manufacturing service bureaus owned by Stratasys, to 3D print two large fuel tank simulators for a satellite. With the biggest tank measuring 15 feet long, the project is one of the largest 3D printed parts ever built for space project.

In early 2012, Lockheed Martin SSC began looking at ways to improve their satellite design. The goal was to design a satellite that would make more efficient use of space and increase the satellite's payload. One change that needed to be validated was in the satellite's fuel tanks.

Lockheed Martin has partnered with RedEye over the last several years. "We chose RedEye because they have the machines and finishing capabilities to build tanks of this size," said Andrew Bushell, senior manufacturing engineer at Lockheed Martin SSC.

The larger tank was built in 10 different pieces and the smaller in 6 different pieces on the Fortus 900mcs 3D printer using polycarbonate (PC) material. Combined, the fuel tanks took nearly two weeks to print, taking roughly 150 hours per section. Because of their round shape and weight, the only way RedEye could successfully bond the tanks was to build customized fixtures to hold the sections while fusing pieces together. After several hours of welding each section together, RedEye sanded the tank seams and surfaces. Once all of the pieces were machined, the final assembly required 240 hours.

"These tanks were built in a fraction of the time it would have taken with traditional manufacturing methods. Even with the machining process and design changes made along the way, we were able to deliver these parts ahead of schedule" said Joel Smith, the strategic account manager for aerospace and defense at RedEye.

The tanks went through a number of quality assurance and accuracy measurements and were approved for the first concept assembly. Lockheed Martin's Space Systems Company says it will take what they learned from the first phase and use the information to optimize the design and assembly to print the second iteration of tanks.

Below is a video showing the printing process:


Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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PinkAsso wrote at 5/1/2014 11:44:51 PM:

The videos show them doing the surface finish with a giant mill. Why didnt it just carve out from block foam or plastic to start with? Seems dumb claim to say 3d printed and taking 100's of hours or work when it could have been done another way with that same finishing mill that was used.

Ben wrote at 5/1/2014 10:57:00 PM:

so lathing is being renamed 3d printing because it's the new buzz word???? I thought in order to be called 3D printing it had to be additive not subtractive.

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