Aerospace AMAM for SpaceCeramicsMaterials

3DCeram supplies ceramic AM parts to ThrustMe’s space propulsion system

The company is now able to produce as many as 365 NPT30-I2 iodine-fueled electric propulsion systems per year

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3DCeram has been selected as one of the suppliers of ThrustMe, a leading NewSpace company with remarkable achievements in space propulsion. In 2020, ThrustMe successfully built the world’s first demonstration of an iodine-fueled electric propulsion system in space. Now delivering the NPT30-I2 iodine-fueled electric propulsion system to major satellite constellations, ThrustMe has a new production facility and the capability to produce 365 products per year, complying with the stringent requirements of the space industry.

ThrustMe immediately recognized the immense potential of ceramic materials and turned to 3DCeram for its expertise in additive manufacturing. Using 3D printed technical ceramics the companies sought to overcome the limitations of traditional manufacturing techniques and materials, offering a more compact, efficient, and reliable solution.

“The decision to adopt 3D printing technology for manufacturing a specific part in our thruster was driven by a number of factors that emerged from an extensive research process,” said Elena Zorzolli Rossi, ThrustMe Product Manager. “Primarily, the space industry often requires the production of complex shapes that cannot be easily obtained through traditional machining methods. At ThrustMe, we don’t just talk about complexity but also miniaturization, a critical requirement in the development of our products. In such cases, 3D printing offers a transformative solution by enabling the creation of specific designs with the precision we need.”

3DCeram and ThrustMe now produce as many as 365 NPT30-I2 iodine-fueled electric propulsion systems per year

Moreover, the versatility of 3D printing technology allows ThrustMe to swiftly iterate and refine designs without incurring significant costs or lead times. Traditional manufacturing processes often involve the creation of molds or tooling, which can be time-consuming and expensive.

In the process of selecting the material for our components, several factors were thoroughly evaluated before choosing ceramic,” Zorzolli Rossi continued. “The decision was guided by taking into account multiple crucial factors related to the harsh space environment like vacuum and extreme temperature ranges, and specific features of the iodine plasma propulsion system such as energetic fluxes of elementary particles, secondary emission, intense sputtering and reactive ion etching.”

However the main consideration was found in the operating conditions that the propulsion systems encounter. Some components are exposed to high temperatures in a chemically active plasma environment, requiring a material with exceptional heat and chemical resistance. Ceramics emerged as the most suitable option in this regard, with its remarkable thermal and chemical stability. Another vital characteristic that weighed heavily in favor of ceramic was its wide range of thermal conductivity. The efficient transfer or isolation of heat is crucial, as it helps to guide the thermal fluxes effectively and prevent overheating or overcooling. Ceramic materials exhibit an excellent range of conductivity properties, enabling selective heat transfer and ensuring optimal performance in our products.

3DCeram and ThrustMe now produce as many as 365 NPT30-I2 iodine-fueled electric propulsion systems per year

The electric properties of ceramic also played a significant role. Components require a material that can effectively isolate and protect against high-voltage electrical breakdowns. Ceramics possess exceptional electrical isolation properties, making it an ideal choice to meet our stringent requirements in this aspect.

One of the main driving forces behind the NewSpace era is the rapid advancement of technology. The companies need to take more risks, iterate quickly, and experiment with new ideas, leading to breakthroughs in areas such as satellite technology, space tourism, and even interplanetary exploration. Looking a little closer, it is not only the internal structure and organization that needs to be rethought compared to the more traditional industry. The whole production chain needs to be prepared to meet New Space costs or lead times.

Looking ahead, the future prospects of the NewSpace era are promising. The ongoing development of technological advancements will continue to drive down the cost of space access and enable more ambitious missions. Accelerating innovation, we are advancing our understanding of the cosmos and improving life on Earth.

“On the 3DCeram side, we take pride in our collaboration with Thrust Me as 3D printed ceramic components have been successfully sent into space, marking a significant milestone in the application of additive manufacturing,” said Arnaud Roux, Sales Representative of 3DCeram. “We believe that this successful deployment of 3D printed ceramic components in space serves as a testament to the immense potential of additive manufacturing. It signifies a new era where complex and customized parts can be efficiently produced, surpassing traditional manufacturing limitations. We believe that sharing this milestone achievement provides a great example of the real-world applications of 3D printing. This significant step forward not only validates the viability of 3D printing as a production tool but also inspires us to reach further and unlock the vast possibilities that lie ahead.”


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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites and, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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