Europe’s largest additively manufactured part in orbit: an antenna support for satellites made of aluminium.
European space telecommunications company, Thales Alenia Space has successfully 3D printed parts for the new South Korean communications satellites Koreasat-5A and Koreasat-7 in collaboration with the 3D printing service company Poly-Shape.
Koreasat-7 is set to go into orbit in 2017 to provide coverage for South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia and India whilst Koreasat-5A will be launched later that year to cover Korea, Japan, Indochina and the Middle East.
The Koreasat-5A and Koreasat-7 antenna supports are Europe’s largest qualified metal 3D printed parts for satellites and were produced using Concept Laser’s X line 1000R system at Poly-Shape.
Identical lightweight components were installed in both satellites measuring 447 x 204.5 x 391 mm3 and weighing just 1.13 kg. The antenna were produced in AISi7Mg alloy. Aluminium is the most commonly used for satellites due to its weight and thermal conductivity.
Florence Montredon, Head of AM at Thales Alenia Space, commented: “As a rule of thumb, the actual costs of putting 1 kg into orbit are around EUR 20,000. So every gram really does count. The starting weight of the two new satellites is around 3,500 kg.”
AM’s potential for lightweight design was a key reason to move away from the traditional methods. The component validation process also revealed a low porosity rate on the finished component of < 1% and tests of tensile and shear strengths also produced good results. Minor deviations in the geometry were corrected with simple reworking, as was a small crack which was revealed by the CT.
Florence Montredon: “The effects were huge: A 22% weight saving for the bionic AM structure compared to a conventional structure. Not forgetting a reduction in costs of around 30% with the finished part being available very much faster.”
X line 1000R at Poly-Shape.
The cost reduction of 30% is attributable to various factors including the reduction in outlay on assembly, redesign as an additive, bionic part – reducing part count from nine to one, elimination of traditional tooling and reduction in time to market.
Poly-Shape houses 28 3D metal printing machines including Concept Laser’s X line 1000R which offers a build envelope of 630 x 400 x 500 mm3 and has a closed system for reliable process and powder management in accordance with the ATEX directives. The X line 1000R also has a rotating mechanism which allows two build modules to be used reciprocally, guaranteeing constant production with no downtimes. The follow-up model, the X line 2000R, has an even bigger build envelope (800 x 400 x 500 mm3), which is currently unique in the realm of powder-bed-based laser melting.
The design was optimised at Thales Alenia Space for additive manufacturing which included topology optimisation, mechanical analysis, simulation, support and part orientation. Thales Alenia Space also incorporated methods of LBM (Layer-Based Manufacturing).
Florence added: “It is clear that we have identified AM as a good prospect for further projects. In the future, we would also like to incorporate thermal control technology or radio functions directly on or within the 3D structures. So functional integration is the next task. This is also a logical consequence of the potential offered by AM.”