Additive Manufactured Parts for Satellite Technology

Europe’s largest additively manufactured part in orbit: an antenna support for satellites made of aluminum (dimensions: x: 447 mm; y: 204.5 mm; z: 391 mm3 – excluding height of build plate) produced on an X line 1000R from Concept Laser. (Source: Concept Laser)

Original design: Conventional component assembled from nine parts and with 22&nbsP;% additional weight: arrangement of two sandwich honeycomb panels with metal inserts and milled webs which were screwed and stuck together. (Source: Thales)

Thales Alenia Space, working in collaboration with the 3D printing service company Poly-Shape, has produced additively manufactured parts for the new South Korean communications satellites Koreasat-5A and Koreasat-7. Koreasat-7 is set to go into orbit in 2017 at position 116° East in order to provide coverage for South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia and India. Koreasat-5A will cater for Korea, Japan, Indochina and the Middle East from the position 113° East. Koreasat-5A should be launched before 2017 second quarter.

The Koreasat-5A and Koreasat-7 antenna supports will be the largest volume parts so far produced by powder-bed based laser melting of metals from Europe to be in orbit. With dimensions of 447 × 204.5 × 391 mm3 – and weighing just 1.13 kg – they really can be referred to as lightweight components. The additively manufactured 3D components are used as basic antenna supports for the communication with ground base of the Koreasat-5A and Koreasat-7 satellites.

Aluminum is the metallic material most commonly used for satellites due to its weight and thermal conductivity. Florence Montredon, Head of AM at Thales Alenia Space, says: “As a rule of thumb, the actual costs of putting one kilogram into orbit are around 20,000 €. So every gram really does count. The starting weight of the two new satellites is around 3,500 kg.” AM’s potential for lightweight design was therefore a key reason to move away from the traditional methods.

Europe’s largest additively manufactured part in orbit: an antenna support for satellites made of aluminum (dimensions: x: 447 mm; y: 204.5 mm; z: 391 mm3 – excluding height of build plate) produced on an X line 1000R from Concept Laser. (Source: Concept Laser)

Europe’s largest additively manufactured part in orbit: an antenna support for satellites made of aluminum (dimensions: 447 × 204.5 mm × 391 mm3 – excluding height of build plate) produced on an X line 1000R from Concept Laser. (Source: Concept Laser)

For these AM parts, Thales Alenia Space chose an AlSi7Mg alloy. Applications in space demand high strength, rigidity and resistance to corrosion from the materials that are used. The component validation process also revealed a low porosity rate on the finished component of more than one percent. The tests of tensile and shear strengths also produced pleasing results. Minor deviations in the geometry were corrected with simple reworking, as was a small crack which was revealed by the CT.

Fairly small pores inside the geometry were accepted following localized mechanical analysis. Ultimately, the parts successfully passed the dynamic tests carried out at Thales. Florence Montredon: “The effects were huge: A 22 % weight saving for the bionic AM structure compared to a conventional structure. Not forgetting a reduction in costs of around 30% with the finished part being available very much faster.”

The LaserCusing process technology from Concept Laser was very important for the project: What makes systems unique is stochastic navigation of the slice segments (also referred to as “islands”) which are processed successively. This patented process ensures a significant reduction in stresses when manufacturing very large parts. With huge dimensions of 447 × 204.5 × 391 mm3, it is obvious to want to control warping to the maximum extent possible. The X line 1000R offers balanced temperature regulation of the build envelope in order to prevent warping in the “oversized” parts. The large, bionic and intricate geometry takes a great deal of time to assemble: It took only a few days to print it.

Florence Montredon: “It is clear that we have identified AM as a good prospect for further projects. In the future, we would also like to incorporate thermal control technology or radio functions directly on or within the 3D structures. So functional integration is the next task. This is also a logical consequence of the potential offered by AM.” (Source: Concept Laser)

Links: Concept Laser GmbH, Lichtenfels, Germany • Thales Alenia Space, Cannes, France • Poly-Shape SAS, Saint-Pierre-du-Perray, France

Speak Your Mind

*