Spaceflight Insider

Lockheed Martin 3D prints fuel tank components

Lockheed Martin has produced domes for satellite fuel tanks via 3 D printing. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin has produced domes for satellite fuel tanks via 3 D printing. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin has announced the creation of a 3-D printed titanium dome for satellite fuel tanks. The 46-inch diameter vessel completed final rounds of quality testing this month. The program was instituted to create a high-pressure tank that can carry fuel on board satellites and marks a significant step toward streamlining the deployment of spacecraft on orbit.

The titanium tank consists of three parts: two 3-D printed domes which will serve as caps plus a variable length traditionally manufactured titanium cylinder that forms the body.

“Our largest 3-D printed parts to date show we’re committed to a future where we produce satellites twice as fast and at half the cost,” said Rick Ambrose, Lockheed Martin Space executive vice president. “And we’re pushing forward for even better results. For example, we shaved off 87 percent of the schedule to build the domes, reducing the total delivery timeline from two years to three months.”

The titanium body is an ideal material because it’s both strong and lightweight and can withstand the rigors of launch and long duration missions. 3-D printing eliminates the last material for domes and the titanium can be used for printing In is available with no wait time. Engineers and technicians evaluated the structure conduct in a full suite of test to demonstrate high tolerance is and repeatability.

“We self-funded this design and qualification effort as an investment in helping our customers move faster and save costs,” explained Ambrose. “These tanks are part of a total transformation in the way we design and deliver space technology. We’re making great strides in automation, virtual reality design and commonality across our satellite product line. Our customers want greater speed and value without sacrificing capability in orbit, and we’re answering the call.”

Lockheed Martin has previously built other 3-D printed parts including the electronics closure for the Advance Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite program. The company also printed the first ever 3-D parts launched to deep space aboard NASA’s Juno spacecraft which is currently orbiting the gas giant Jupiter.

Technicians use the electron beam additive manufacturing process to produce these domes in the largest reading printer at the facility in Denver, Colorado. This new tank is now offered at the standard product option for LM 2100 satellite buses.




Heather Smith's fascination for space exploration – started at the tender age of twelve while she was on a sixth-grade field trip in Kenner, Louisiana, walking through a mock-up of the International Space Station and seeing the “space potty” (her terminology has progressed considerably since that time) – she realized at this point that her future lay in the stars. Smith has come to realize that very few people have noticed how much spaceflight technology has improved their lives. She has since dedicated herself to correcting this problem. Inspired by such classic literature as Anne Frank’s Diary, she has honed her writing skills and has signed on as The Spaceflight Group’s coordinator for the organization’s social media efforts.

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