In addition to printing prototypes, Lockheed Martin is using 3D printing for production parts that will go into various space-going platforms.
“A big advantage for testing and flying 3D-printed parts for space applications is that it simplifies the design. You can create more complex shapes. It reduces the amount of fasteners needed and part count, which is a huge cost savings because that’s one less part that has to be tested or assembled,” noted Christian. “This also opens up for future in-situ assembly in space. You have designed, printed, and tested the part on Earth. Now you know that, in the future, you can 3D print that same part in space because you have shown that the material and part works there.”
Manufacturing in space is expensive but appealing for future applications and missions. Now, bulk materials can be flown into space to be used to 3D print multiple parts and structures, rather than flying each part out individually. Combining that with a digital inventory of part files, 3D printing in space reduces costs by cutting out the need for storage and multiple trips, which make it expensive to fly.
“The digital inventory concept helps push our digital transformation forward—you have digital designs that you can ship up, where you just print the parts and have them assembled on location,” added Christian.