3D-printed parts from Thales Alenia Space in orbit

Thales Alenia Space has now sent into orbit 79 metal parts made by additive manufacturing.

With the recent launches of the Telkom 3S, SGDC, and KOREASAT-7 satellites, plus satellites in the Iridium Next constellation, Thales Alenia Space (Toulouse, France) has now sent into orbit 79 metal parts made by additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing) and 350 polymer tube supports for chemical propulsion systems.

Additive manufacturing allows designing and manufacturing single-piece structures, as opposed to a conventional manufacturing approach, which entails assembly of several different parts to form a structure. The benefits are a significant reduction in weight and cost savings. The tube support illustrates the ability to replace several parts by a single-piece structure, while also introducing new functions.

In April 2015, the first 3D-printed aluminum antenna support was sent into orbit on the TurkmenAlem MonacoSat satellite. Since then, all of the company's telecommunications satellites use lightweight 3D-printed antenna supports and reflector fittings.

In mid-January 2017, with the successful launch of the first Iridium Next satellites, the company also sent into orbit satellites with propulsion system tube supports—the first flight application of thermoplastic additive manufacturing.

Next, the company plans to manufacture larger parts using this process, such as dual antenna supports for a new telecom satellite, to be launched shortly. These parts measure 480 x 378 x 364mm—a real challenge from a manufacturing standpoint.

For more information, please visit www.thalesaleniaspace.com.

More in Additive Manufacturing