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ESA’s new center to investigate 3D printing potential for space projects

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The Manufacturing Technology Centre, based in Coventry and home to the UK National Centre for Additive Manufacturing, will manage the new ESA Additive Manufacturing Benchmarking Centre, which will provide a simple and easy way for ESA projects and hi-tech companies to investigate the potential of 3D printing for their work.

France: ESA is establishing a ‘one-stop shop’ in partnership with the Manufacturing Technology Centre to cover 3D printing. The MTC research organization will manage the new ESA Additive Manufacturing Benchmarking Centre (AMBC), which will provide a simple and easy way for ESA projects and hi-tech companies to investigate the potential of 3D printing for their work.

The move will see the ESA call on the expertise of the MTC, which offers access to the latest state-of-the-art 3D printing capabilities, allowing prototype parts to be produced and then assessed in terms of their suitability for specific applications.

“The ESA’s Directorate of Technology, Engineering and Quality has called for the creation of a detailed roadmap for the harnessing of 3D printing to the space sector,” says Torben Henriksen, Head of ESA’s Mechanical Department.

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ESA‘s new Additive Manufacturing Benchmarking Centre will provide a simple and easy way for ESA projects and hi-tech companies to investigate the potential of 3D printing for their work.

“We’ve been guided to set up this center, with customers and industrial partners questioning us about the best way to try out 3D printing for the first time and test out the maturity of the results.”

Tommaso Ghidini, head of ESA’s Materials and Processes Section, added: “Having identified this requirement, we have outsourced its operation to MTC.

“We don’t want to compete with industry; instead, the idea is that ESA projects and interested companies can investigate this new engineering world to the point where they will take a decision to proceed further.”

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Liftoff of Sentinel-2B on a Vega launcher from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana at 01:49 GMT (02:49 CET) on 7 March 2017.

Dr Dave Brackett, technology manager for additive manufacturing at the MTC, believes ESA’s exploration of the use of 3D printing will be incredibly beneficial for the technology: “This is a brilliant opportunity to further the technology in one of the most testing and dynamic application areas.

“As the UK National Centre for Additive Manufacturing, we are in a unique position to work with ESA as their Additive Manufacturing Benchmarking Centre and provide the space sector with access to state-of-the-art capability and understanding to support industrial exploitation.”

Europe’s Vega small launcher will be the first project to make use of the Centre.

“By evolving Vega over time, we aim to hone its competitiveness, increase its flexibility and reduce recurring costs,” said Giorgio Tumino, overseeing Vega’s development program for ESA.

“We’re cooperating with AMBC to investigate the use of 3D printing for rocket engine thrust chambers for Vega’s upper stage, potentially allowing for a significant simplification in production and reduced costs.

“For such high–pressure/high-efficiency liquid rocket thrust chambers, a good surface finish is essential, with the absence of critical defects and the equivalent strength properties of its parent material – produced to a size at the limit of the current capabilities for powder-based additive manufacturing machines, using non-standard alloys.