Since its founding in 1995, Lockheed Martin has made a myriad of contributions to the aerospace industry with groundbreaking new technologies. With the introduction of 3D printers and the onset of additive manufacturing, Lockheed has leveraged these tools to create everything from missile components to spacecraft parts.
The aerospace company can now add giant 3D printed satellite fuel tank to their list of accomplishments, taking the record for largest qualified 3D part created for space applications, beating out a toaster-sized electronics enclosure.
In order to handle the rigors of being launched into space while withstanding the hazards associated with the harsh environment, satellite fuel tanks must be both lightweight and robust, making titanium the go-to metal. The only problem with using the material is that the tank measures-out to 4-foot in diameter (@ 4-inches thick), and using traditional manufacturing methods would have taken over a year to build.
To create the tank on a relatively quick scale, Lockheed engineers used the Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing method where the titanium is in metal or powder form and fused together by an electron beam. The tank itself is designed to hold 74.4 liters of fuel, and only the tank dome ends were 3D printed while the tank body was crafted through traditional means, all of which were then welded together.
Lockheed plans to use the fuel tanks for their LM 2100 satellite bus line that contracts out with the military, civil, and commercial agencies. According to the Lockheed Martin press release, “Lockheed Martin’s recent accomplishment continues a path of 3D printed parts that bloomed in recent years. Since the company launched the first ever printed parts into deep space aboard NASA’s Juno spacecraft, it has produced thousands of flight components and even more for tooling and prototyping using a variety of metals and composites.”