Jul 12, 2018 | By Thomas

Lockheed Martin has completed the final rounds of quality testing on a titanium cylinder built using 3D printing technology this month, concluding a multi-year development program to create giant, high-pressure tanks that carry fuel on board satellites.

The titanium fuel tank consists of three parts welded together: two 3D printed domes that function as caps, and a variable-length, traditionally-manufactured titanium cylinder that forms the body.

Additive manufacturing reduces lead times and is proving cost-effective. "Our largest 3D printed parts to date show we're committed to a future where we produce satellites twice as fast and at half the cost," said Rick Ambrose, Lockheed Martin Space executive vice president. "And we're pushing forward for even better results. 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."

Satellite fuel tanks must be both strong and lightweight to withstand the rigors of launch and decade-long missions in the vacuum of space. That makes titanium an ideal material, but procuring 4-foot-diameter, 4-inch-thick titanium forgings can take a year or more, making them the most challenging and expensive parts of the tank. Traditional manufacturing techniques also meant that more than 80 percent of the material went to waste. Lockheed technicians used Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing to produce these domes at a company facility in Denver.

"We self-funded this design and qualification effort as an investment in helping our customers move faster and save costs," explained Ambrose. "These tanks are part of a total transformation in the way we design and deliver space technology. 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."

A Lockheed Martin engineer inspects one of the 3D printed dome prototypes, the final dome measures 46 inches in diameter, large enough to fit 74.4 gallons of liquid.

All images credit: Lockheed Martin

Even the smallest leak or flaw could be catastrophic for a satellite's operations, so engineers evaluated the structure and conducted a full suite of tests to ensure the 3D printed tanks meet or exceed the performance and reliability required by NASA.

Since Lockheed Martin launched the first ever 3D printed parts into deep space aboard NASA's Juno spacecraft, it has produced thousands of flight components using a variety of metals and composites. The tank domes are a leap in size for qualified 3D printed materials. The largest part previously qualified was a toaster-size electronics enclosure for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite program.

Lockheed Martin now offers the tank as a standard product option for LM 2100 satellite buses.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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