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Thales Alenia Space ramps up 3D printing with series production for satellites

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Thales Alenia Space, a French-Italian aerospace manufacturer, has announced the next step in its additive manufacturing adoption: series production. The company, which first began its journey with AM in 2015 with 3D printed aluminum antenna brackets for the TürkmenÄlem/MonacoSAT satellite and polymer tube supports for the Iridium NEXT constellation, will begin turning out 3D printed components for telecom satellites built on its all-electric Spacebus Neo platform.

The aerospace manufacturer has made some significant strides in the intersecting sectors of AM and space exploration. In 2017, for instance, the company was involved in launching the Koreasat 5A and 7 telecommunications satellites which featured the largest 3D printed spacecraft parts made in Europe at the time. Now, the company is aiming to ramp up its AM efforts with its Spacebus Neo platform, a series of all-electric geostationary telecommunications satellites.

Shorter lead times, lower costs

The new Spacebus Neo platform by Thales Alenia Space features four aluminum reaction wheel brackets and 16 antenna deployment and pointing mechanism (ADPM) brackets (four made out of aluminum and 12 from titanium).

By using additive manufacturing to produce the reaction wheel bracket, Thales Alenia Space says it is able to reduce costs by 10% and achieve shorter production schedules (by as much as one or two months). Further, the 3D printed component that is being put into series production is 30% lighter than its traditionally manufactured counterpart and boasts improved performance.

To be able to produce the reaction wheel brackets—which have large dimensions of 466 x 267 x 403 mm—Thales Alenia Space installed the largest powder-bed 3D printer in Europe at its facility, the Xline 2000R by Concept Laser. The large-format machine has a build volume of 800 x 400 x 500 mm, making it suitable for the production in question.

Thales Alenia Space series production
Eutelsat Konnect satellite (Image: Thales Alenia Space | Master Image Programmes)

Customized to the mission

Not only is the 3D printer the right scale to produce the satellite components, but it also affords the aerospace manufacturer a level of flexibility in its production process, allowing for a high level of customization if needed. In other words, Thales Alenia can integrate necessary design changes on the fly to meet the exact requirements of a new mission.

For example, while the four reaction wheel brackets for each satellite are produced as two sets of symmetrical parts, the orientation angles and interfaces for the ADPM brackets can be customized to fulfill their specific application and position for each satellite. Thales Alenia Space also says it has been able to directly incorporate the connector and cable fittings into the 3D printed design, meaning that parts can be printed as a single piece, reducing the need for assembly.

Eutelsat Konnect satellite

The first four 3D printed brackets have been installed on European satellite operator Eutelsat’s Konnect satellite. The satellite, which was mated earlier this month, is the first satellite to use the new Spacebus Neo all-electric platform. Thales Alenia Space plans to integrate more “organically designed” 3D printed parts in other Spacebus Neo platform in the future.

“Eutelsat is now fully involved in the development and use of 3D printed satellite parts at all stages of the process, from design to final delivery,” said Philippe Sicard, engineer at Eutelsat. “These parts are recognizable by their highly specific design. And to ensure the most stringent quality standards, the overall process and individual components are robustly traceable and we have set up a comprehensive testing and inspection process.”

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Victor Anusci

Victor does not really exist. He is a pseudonym for several writers in the 3D Printing Media Network team. As a pseudonym, Victor has also had a fascinating made-up life story, living as a digital (and virtual) nomad to cover the global AM industry. He has always worked extra-hard whenever he was needed to create unique content. However, lately, as our editorial team has grown, he is mostly taking care of publishing press releases.

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