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AM solutions for payload by Thales Alenia Space help satellite industry take off

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Sending satellites into orbit is both expensive and complex. Breaking free of Earth’s orbit is costly and the extreme conditions of space can be difficult to endure. This means that satellite parts need to be both very light and very strong. The advantages of additive manufacturing for space applications are evident and the entire space industry is excited about the possibilities that 3D printing can offer. Some of the latest solutions developed available in the market for payload components will be presented at IN(3D)USTRY next October 3-5 at Fira de Barcelona.

Among the main examples, will be Thales Alenia Space, a division of the global Thales Group, one of the key innovators in the rapidly growing space infrastructure industry, which includes launch vehicles, spacecraft and especially satellites. The group has recently revealed it has sent as many as 79 3D printed metal parts into orbit along with over 350 polymer 3D printed satellite components.

One of the areas where both metal and polymer 3D printing can offer some of the clearest benefits is in payload applications. These are the electronic and mechanical parts that actually make a satellite perform the function is was built for. Such as, for example, covering an entire continent with a TV signal. Needless to say, it is extremely important that they continue to perform flawlessly, since repair operation in space can be very expensive if not entirely impossible.

“3D printing technologies are opening up so many amazing possibilities and everyone in the space industry is very excited about it. With extensive experience in space applications, Mr Martinez Martin is one of the foremost experts in the use of AM for both electrical and mechanical payload components.”Angel Martinez Martin, Payload – Physical Design Manager at Thales Alenia Space Spain

Mr Martinez has published extensive work in the use of AM both for part optimization and for reducing post-assemblies, making the manufacturing process faster. “We use AM to make parts that are lighter but also to make parts that would be almost impossible to manufacture by traditional methods,” he explains. “With optimization methodologies and Additive Manufacturing technologies in tandem, we have got unprecedented results in terms of mass saving and thermo-mechanical performances”.

At Thales Alenia Space, AM technologies have many different applications. Some of the most fascinating ones include the use of experimental thermopolymers loaded with nanoparticles to directly manufacture complex, electrically conductive or ESD (Electrostatic Discharge) parts. “Working with these materials, that our partners develop specifically for us, allows us to envision many future applications for AM in our field of expertise, however – Mr. Martin Martinez adds – some of the most useful applications of FDM 3D printing today are in tooling. It allows us to produce custom tools on-demand, implementing the specific mechanical properties we require.”

Metal 3D printing technologies, primarily powder-bed selective laser melting (SLM), are used for mechanical parts. “For metal parts such as brackets, holders or even gyroscopes, the advantages offered by AM are mainly in the production of bionically inspired, highly optimized lattice structures,” Mr Martin Martinez explains. “These are much lighter but can also guarantee the same mechanical stiffness and stress resistance. With AM we can produce them as single parts instead of as a set of as many as twenty parts that need to be assembled manually.”

AM is offering new solutions that are going to help the space industry solve real problems. The objective of the IN(3D)USTRY conference and exhibit is to discover how these solutions can be implemented in other sectors as well to help the sustainable and optimized manufacturing industry of tomorrow really take off.

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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 VoxelMatters.com and Replicatore.it, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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