Lockheed Martin 3D-printing titanium space parts

Lockheed Martin is 3D-printing a large titanium dome for fuel tanks to use in a major U.S. satellite program. 

Engineers finished testing the 4-foot-diameter cap this month, ending a multi-year development program. Two domes will seal giant, high-pressure tanks that carry satellite fuel. The company will now offer the tank as a standard option for its LM 2100 satellite buses.

Engineers made these caps with 3D printing, a technique that’s becoming increasingly common inside aerospace companies. Lockheed has made thousands of flight components this way because it slashes time and expense from tooling and R&D prototyping. But as these giant companies get more comfortable with 3D printing, the tech is becoming a game-changer for manufacturing parts.
Titanium is lightweight and strong, making it an ideal material for spacecraft. But because the process is so new and unrefined, using it also adds time and money. Lockheed says that traditional manufacturing techniques led to more than 80 percent of the material going to waste while making the sat domes.

“We self-funded this design and qualification effort as an investment in helping our customers move faster and save costs,” Ambrose says. “These tanks are part of a total transformation in the way we design and deliver space technology.” He says the delivery time has dropped from two years to three months.

Image courtesy of Lockheed Martin
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