Thales satellites to feature largest 3D-printed parts ever made in Europe

The 3D printed telemetry and command antenna supports are made of aluminum - image courtesy of Thales.
The 3D printed parts, which are made of aluminum - image courtesy of Thales.

Telecommunications satellites being designed and built by French aerospace manufacturer Thales Alenia Space (TAS) will include the largest 3D printed spacecraft parts ever made in Europe.

The parts made for the Koreasat-5A and Koreasat-7 telecommunications satellites will be created using a 3D printing technique called the ‘powder bed additive manufacturing process’.

The parts will be used as telemetry and command antenna supports and are made of aluminium.

The parts for the two satellites are identical measuring 45cm x 40cm x 21cm, and were made in the same batch by the same machine.

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To create these parts, TAS uses the Concept Laser Xline 1000R 3D printer – Europe’s largest laser beam melting machine which belongs to French company and TAS partner, Poly-Shape.

The two parts created by the 3D printer feature an innovative bio-design, and according to TAC have just passed their vibration acceptance tests last week and have demonstrated perfectly reproducible dynamic behaviour.

Benefits of 3D printing for Thales

According to Thales, using 3D-printing technology to develop these kinds of parts offers a number of advantages over traditional manufacturing techniques.

These include 22% weight savings; 30% cost savings; a decrease in the production schedule of around one to two months, and higher performance for the parts themselves.

The type of antenna support which will be provided by the 3D-printed parts for the Koreasat-5A and Koreasat- 7 telecom satellites already being used on the TurkmenAlem satellite, which was also built by TAS and has been in orbit since April.

The Arabsat 6B satellite, which is scheduled for launch from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana in November, includes 3D-printed tripods amongst its parts.

The Koreasat-7 and Koreasat-5A telecom satellites are scheduled to be launched into the geostationary transfer orbit in 2017.

Koreasat-7 will be positioned at 116° East and will offer internet access, multimedia, broadcasting and fixed communications services to South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia and India.

Koreasat-5A will be positioned at 113° East and cover Korea, Japan, Indochina and the Middle East,

The satellites are being designed for a lifespan of 15 years and weigh approximately 3,500kg on launch.

Other recent 3D printing examples

As Thales Alenia Space prepares to launch its telecom satellites, other companies have also produced items made from the latest 3D-printing technology.

General Electric is one major company who has made big investments in 3D printing. The US multinational aims to produce more than 85,000 fuel nozzles through 3D-printing technology for its new Leap jet engines.

Like Thales Alenia Space, Boeing has also used 3D printing technology to make parts for its products; having made more than 20,000 3D printed parts for 10 different military and commercial planes.

Ford has also embraced 3D printing technology, having used the manufacturing method since the 1980s. The automaker printed its 500,000th part with a 3D printer in 2013.

And it’s not just the major industrial-based companies, automakers and airlines implementing the 3D-printing technology to help create their innovative products.

Sports apparel-giant Nike made 3D printed cleats for players competing in the 2014 Super Bowl.