Metal in Space

There aren’t many more enduring tributes a manufactured piece could be the beneficiary of than to be assigned a berth beyond our earthly bonds.

Such is the destiny that will embrace some recently 3D-printed spacecraft components that owe their existence to the additive manufacturing promotion network, Canada Makes.

Produced in conjunction with FusiA Impression 3D Métal Inc., the Montreal-based metal production company that built the parts; and MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., the multinational communications and information company behind their design, these space-bound metal marvels will be launched into the great beyond later this year.

The additive manufacturing piece is important to their suitability for an interstellar mission. It’s thanks to the specialized technology features that 3D printing offers, after all, that these components—which are, specifically, interface brackets for an antenna—have been optimized for flight.

The project, which will be delivered through Canada Makes’ Metal Additive Manufacturing Demonstration Program, is not unique. An increasing number of satellite manufacturers—including, notably, Boeing, Lockheed and NASA—have adopted additive manufacturing techniques in recent times, attracted to their promise of producing lighter-weight, lower-cost and customized metal parts, and doing so in a shorter time frame than is the convention.

For one, Boeing tapped Oxford Performance Materials in January to develop and manufacture components for its Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, which will transport up to seven passengers to low-Earth orbit destinations like the International Space Station. Oxford will manufacture more than 600 3D-printed parts for the project’s space taxis.

Canada Makes funded the antenna brackets through its Metal Additive Manufacturing Demonstration Program, established to showcase and encourage 3D printing awareness among Canadian businesses.

The players have yet to release details about which satellite these additively manufactured spacecraft parts will be part of.

Metal in Space