Lockheed Martin unveils largest-ever 3D-printed satellite fuel domes


Lockheed Martin has smashed the record for the world’s biggest 3-D printed part built for space. 

The aerospace giant built a 3-D printed titanium vessel to be used for satellite fuel tanks that measures 46 inches, or just about four feet, in diameter. 

Before the titanium domes, Lockheed Martin’s largest 3-D printed part was a toaster-size electronics enclosure for the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite program. 

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Lockheed Martin has smashed the record for the world’s biggest 3-D printed part built for space. The aerospace giant built a 3-D printed titanium vessel to be used for satellite fuel

The vessel is comprised of three parts in all: two 3-D printed domes that function as caps, as well as a titanium cylinder that serves as the body of the tank.

These high-pressure tanks will carry fuel on board satellites, including Lockheed Martin’s 2100 communications satellites. 

Including the middle tank, the vessel is about 95 inches, or eight feet, tall. 

Lockheed Martin said 3-D printing has allowed the firm to make significant strides in constructing vital parts in a more efficient and cost-effective manner than in the past. 

Traditionally, it would take at least a year to secure a 4-foot-diameter, 4-inch-think titanium dome.

Traditionally, it would take  a year to secure a 4-foot-diameter, 4-inch-think titanium dome, but 3-D printing has eliminated that need.

It has also reduced the amount of wasted material that's generated throughout the process.

Traditionally, it would take a year to secure a 4-foot-diameter, 4-inch-think titanium dome, but 3-D printing has eliminated that need, while reducing the amount of wasted material

To put the size of the domes in perspective, Lockheed Martin said that they can hold over 74 gallons of coffee, 530 glazed donuts, 310,000 m&ms or 6,225 ping pong balls

To put the size of the domes in perspective, Lockheed Martin said that they can hold over 74 gallons of coffee, 530 glazed donuts, 310,000 m&ms or 6,225 ping pong balls

But 3-D printing has eliminated that need, while reducing the amount of wasted material that’s generated throughout the process. 

‘Our largest 3-D printed parts to date show we’re committed to a future where we produce satellites twice as fast and at half the cost,’ Rick Ambrose, Lockheed Martin Space’s executive vice president, said in a statement. 

Including the middle tank, the titanium vessel is about 95 inches, or eight feet, tall

Including the middle tank, the titanium vessel is about 95 inches, or eight feet, tall

‘…For example, we shaved off 87 percent of the schedule to build the domes, reducing the total delivery timeline from two years to three months.’  

To put the size of the domes in perspective, Lockheed Martin said that they can hold over 74 gallons of coffee, or 530 glazed donuts. 

Lockheed Martin noted that the titanium used in 3-D printing is just as strong and lightweight as the real thing, but the firm’s engineers still went extra lengths to make sure that it could withstand harsh conditions on a repeated basis.

To be specific, the domes have to be strong enough to withstand the ‘rigors of launch’ as well as missions that can last up to a decade long in the vacuum of space. 

Lockheed Martin was the first firm to 3D print parts for use in spacecrafts. 

It kicked off this initiative when it launched the first ever printed parts into deep space in NASA’s Juno mission.

Since then, it has produced thousands of parts for tooling and prototyping, Lockheed Martin said.  

However, the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory takes the title for the world’s largest 3-D printed object in general. 

Lockheed Martin was the first firm to 3D print parts for use in spacecrafts. It kicked off this initiative when it launched the first ever printed parts into deep space in NASA's Juno mission

Lockheed Martin was the first firm to 3D print parts for use in spacecrafts. It kicked off this initiative when it launched the first ever printed parts into deep space in NASA’s Juno mission

The vessel is made up of three parts in all: two 3-D printed domes, as well as a titanium cylinder that serves as the body of the tank. The high-pressure tanks will carry fuel on board satellites

The vessel is made up of three parts in all: two 3-D printed domes, as well as a titanium cylinder that serves as the body of the tank. The high-pressure tanks will carry fuel on board satellites

In 2016, Oak Ridge created a 3-D printed trim-and-drill tool for plane wings that measures up at 17.5ft long, 5.5ft wide and 1.5ft tall. 

The tool is printed using carbon fiber and thermoplastic materials and was printed in approximately 30 hours.  

WHAT IS 3D PRINTING AND HOW DOES IT WORK?

First invented in the 1980s by Chuck Hull, an engineer and physicist, 3D printing technology – also called additive manufacturing – is the process of making an object by depositing material, one layer at a time.

Similarly to how an inkjet printer adds individual dots of ink to form an image, a 3D printer adds material where it is needed, based on a digital file.

Many conventional manufacturing processes involved cutting away excess materials to make a part, and this can lead to wastage of up to 30 pounds (13.6 kilograms) for every one pound of useful material, according to the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

By contrast, with some 3D printing processes about 98 per cent of the raw material is used in the finished part, and the method can be used to make small components using plastics and metal powders, with some experimenting with chocolate and other food, as well as biomaterials similar to human cells.

3D printers have been sued to manufacture everything from prosthetic limbs to robots, and the process follows these basic steps:

· Creating a 3D blueprint using computer-aided design (CAD) software

· Preparing the printer, including refilling the raw materials such as plastics, metal powders and binding solutions.

· Initiating the printing process via the machine, which builds the object.

· 3D printing processes can vary, but material extrusion is the most common, and it works like a glue gun: the printing material is heated until it liquefies and is extruded through the print nozzle

· Using information from the digital file, the design is split into two-dimensional cross-sections so the printers knows where to put the material

· The nozzle deposits the polymer in thin layers, often 0.1 millimetre (0.004 inches) thick.

· The polymer rapidly solidifies, bonding to the layer below before the build platform lowers and the print head adds another layer (depending on the object, the entire process can take anywhere from minutes to days.)

· After the printing is finished, every object requires some post-processing, ranging from unsticking the object from the build platform to removing support, to removing excess powders. 





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