Aerospace AMAM for Space

D-Orbit works with Caracol on WAAM 3D printed pressurized tanks

The Department of Mechanical Engineering of Politecnico di Milano contributed with AL2319 material characterization

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The global aerospace industry is experiencing a great push for innovation and additive manufacturing is playing a key role in this evolution, thanks to its characteristics of flexibility, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness on small production volumes. Following on this trend and all the work Caracol has been conducting in the aerospace sector, thanks to the TechFast Lombardia call (POR FESR 2014-2020), the company has been working on a project to manufacture space applications, such as pressure tanks, in a more efficient way. Specifically, a pressure tank for D-Orbit, a leading space logistics and transportation company, was 3D printed using Caracol’s newest WAAM technology and Al2319 material characterized in collaboration with the Department of Mechanical Engineering of Politecnico di Milano (Polimi).

The pressurized tank, manufactured with the lightweight aluminum alloy, will be mounted on a carrier satellite to transport and release CubeSats into orbit. Once in orbit, these satellites are used for research, telecommunications, and monitoring operations in both research and commercial applications. Caracol has developed advanced manufacturing solutions for the on-demand production of custom metal components for the aerospace sector.

D-Orbit looks to Caracol for WAAM 3D printed pressurized tanks. The Politecnico di Milano contributed with AL2319 material characterization The WAAM technology developed by Caracol is based on a MIG (Metal Inert Gas) welding technology and can be used to produce finished parts for advanced sectors. Furthermore, leveraging its extensive know-how in programming and designing advanced additive manufacturing robotic systems, as well as the experience in hardware-software integration gained with the large-scale Fused Granular Fabrication (FGF) process, Caracol developed and deployed its proprietary slicing and control software for WAAM, that works on 8-axis.

Both D-Orbit and Polimi were directly involved in the project.

D-Orbit, which was identified as the end-user of the project, helped pinpoint the functional characteristics the component would need, from the geometry to the test requirements the pressurized tanks would need to meet. Founded in 2011, the Italian company is one of the first players in the New Space market, building a space logistics infrastructure that will enable service providers to streamline satellite launch, across-orbit transportation, on-orbit servicing and refueling, and end-of-mission disposal.

D-Orbit’s commercial launch and deployment solutions are enabled by its proprietary orbital transfer vehicle ION Satellite Carrier and can reduce the time from launch to operations by up to 85%, with potential savings of up to 40% when deploying an entire satellite constellation. These cost savings are among the enabling factors for the upcoming trillion-dollar commercial space industry that will lead humanity to expand into the cosmos.

The Department of Mechanical Engineering of Politecnico di Milano was fundamental for the Al2319 material characterization as well as the testing phase for the qualification of the final product and in the definition of the process parameters optimization.

In addition to the hardware and software innovations that derived from this project, Caracol and its partners also designed and assessed a Digital Flow to integrate engineering, manufacturing, and testing processes to produce metal aerospace components. The elements of digital innovation introduced in the project refer to three main fields: software, control, and automation. The integration of these three aspects leads to a highly automated and efficient workflow. Furthermore, the identification of a Digital Flow to control each process phase allows WAAM technologies to guarantee repeatability and control over the process, ensuring these processes can become an effective and efficient alternative to traditional manufacturing technologies.

D-Orbit looks to Caracol for WAAM 3D printed pressurized tanks. The Politecnico di Milano contributed with AL2319 material characterization

Caracol decided to pursue WAAM as a solution for these applications as it brings numerous advantages in terms of design flexibility, performance, efficiency, and foster sustainability. With regards to the product, it combines the significant reduction of scrap material with an optimized design, allowing for weight reduction of the final component. Applied to the specific case of the pressurized tank installed in a satellite carrier, this leads to considerable cost savings, on both production and launch and a positive environmental impact – as the amount of propellant required for the launch depends directly on the spacecraft’s mass. On the other hand, in terms of process, WAAM technology enables the production of a mono-material propellant tank. For high-demand applications, this technology can potentially be used in combination with filament winding, to effectively provide metal cores with complex shapes.

This project assumes great relevance as it shows the tangible potential of an early-stage technology like WAAM for the production of space-finished parts. Today, WAAM has still a long way to go to extend its employment, not only in Lombardy but also in Italy and Europe. The technology brings with it all the product and process benefits of additive manufacturing and Caracol’s know-how on AM with robotic systems, expanding its potential to the application of propellant tanks for space crafts. Today, Caracol keeps working on the project with a feasibility study to make this metal 3D printing technology and its WAAM solutions ready for use across advanced industrial industries.

The overall aim is to support the technological and digital innovation of production processes through additive, to expedite small and medium-sized space enterprises’ work.

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