3D Systems has announced that the aerospace manufacturer Airbus has entrusted it with the production of “critical components” for the next OneSat satellite.
Unlike traditional satellites, which are designed for specifically defined missions, Airbus says the OneSat will be fully reconfigurable in orbit, allowing it to change coverage area, capacity and frequency “on the fly”. After being selected to help build the device, 3D Systems will now deploy its DMP Factory 500 platform to mass-produce parts of its antenna arrays in a way that could improve its performance.
“Our company has a strong partnership with 3D Systems and has relied on their team of application engineers to help us bring our most advanced designs to life,” said Stephen Phipps, OneSat antenna program manager. at Airbus Defense and Space. “Everything from the quality of the parts produced using their printers, to part qualification, quality management and overall project management, has helped Airbus Defense and Space maintain its industry leading position. .
“OneSat is a truly disruptive product, and we wanted our design and manufacturing process to have the same level of innovation.”
Continued adoption of 3D printing by Airbus
As you’d expect from Europe’s self-proclaimed largest aeronautics and space company, Airbus is constantly involved in cutting-edge R&D, with the aim of identifying technological innovations that unlock manufacturing advancements. aerospace.
This approach has often led Airbus to experiment with 3D printing, particularly on the aeronautical side of its business. As recently as June last year, Materialize and EOS became the first qualified to 3D print flight-ready Airbus parts. At the time, this development was to make it possible to use the technology of the former in the production of aircraft elements for aircraft such as the A320, A330 and A340.
In the past, the company has also worked with Sigma Labs to assess the aerospace potential of PrintRite3D and Farsoon Technologies to develop 3D printing polymers for civil aviation applications. The latter, which marked Airbus’ first such collaboration with a Chinese partner, focused primarily on R&D of a material that Farsoon could use to make aerospace-grade parts.
Elsewhere, on the space side of its business, Airbus has also steadily boosted its additive manufacturing capabilities for satellite parts. Since 3D printing its first radio frequency (RF) filter in 2017, the company has significantly ramped up its activities in this area, culminating in a project in 2021 that saw it integrate 500 3D printed parts into the Eurostar Neo , a series of satellite broadcast relays manufactured for Eutelsat.
3D Systems OneSat Realization Role
After the conclusion of its design review in April 2021, Airbus has now started manufacturing the OneSat, with companies including Optus, Intelsat and SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation having already placed orders. To do this, the company turned to 3D Systems’ Applications Innovation Group (AIG), which found a way to 3D print the satellite’s large antenna arrays.
3D Systems’ contribution to the build will allow it to leverage the seven years of experience gained from 3D printing alongside Airbus, to provide its partner with an end-to-end solution for creating the parts, including including materials, machinery and software.
Specifically, the OneSat’s two dies, one designed to transmit and the other to receive signals, are designed to be fabricated from LaserForm AlSi10Mg. 3D printing these using parameters developed by the company’s AIG should result in parts with the required layer thickness of 30 µm, while the deployment of the DMP Factory 500 and its vacuum chamber to do so should provide them with surface homogeneity.
Throughout the project, it is also expected that the AIG team will act as the “project manager”. This will allow 3D Systems engineers to identify post-processing and quality control contractors who can mitigate risk and reduce time-to-market for these parts. AIG is also leading a technology transfer process, in which another Tier 1 supplier is expected to help accelerate component production.
The anonymous supplier would purchase another DMP Factory 500, both to complement its existing fleet and to enable it to meet the quality levels required by Airbus. However, Dr. Michael Shepard, vice president of the aerospace and defense segment of 3D Systems, pointed out that 3D Systems’ role in the project goes beyond simply earning another sale.
“Similar to our first work with Airbus on the first additively manufactured RF filter, we have the opportunity to deliver another telecommunications-changing industry ‘first’,” adds Shepard. “Our AIG laid the groundwork for the development of the application for this component, and we are proud that 3D Systems’ technology can help Airbus lay the foundation for a strong supply chain for mass production of RF hardware. passive.
“We appreciate our long-standing partnership with Airbus Defense and Space, and are excited about how our collective work continues to make its mark in communications satellites.”
High-speed satellite 3D printing
While 3D printing of satellite parts has been going on for several years now, the speed and complexity of this process has only accelerated. Earlier this year, Boeing unveiled a new high-throughput, satellite-based 3D printing facility designed to unlock fast delivery times for its small devices.
Similarly, Australian satellite developer Fleet Space revealed plans in December 2021 to launch a next-generation series of small 3D-printed satellites. Reportedly the world’s first fully additively manufactured satellite, the Alpha is set to take advantage of the company’s advanced beamforming technology and patented antennas, to unlock greater connectivity more quickly across more satellites. locations.
Meanwhile, at Alba Orbital, engineers have successfully developed 3D printed AlbaPods, which have already launched several satellites into orbit. In February 2022, the Scottish firm revealed that its latest cluster of AlbaPods had been launched into space by SpaceX, before deploying thirteen PocketQube devices designed for space research missions.
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The featured image shows an artist’s impression of what the OneSat satellite will look like. Image via Airbus.