Lockheed Martin recently announced that they have successfully installed a 3D printed part on a military satellite for the first time ever. The satellite, Advanced Extremely High Frequency 6 (AEHF-6), was built in collaboration with Northrop Grumann and is intended to provide hardened global communications for tactical and strategic application to the U.S., Canada, Holland, Great Britain and other U.S. allies. The 3D printed part which Lockheed Martin installed is an aluminum remote interface unit that will enclose various aviation electronics.
In creating the unit, Lockheed Martin utilized a 3D printing technique known as laser powder bed fusion additive manufacturing. According to sources at the company, this process dramatically cut production time, from 12 hours to 3 hours, and also enabled the firm to produce a prototype in a third of the amount of time that their traditional methods take. According to Lockheed Martin’s Vice President of Protected Communications, Iris Bombelyn, “3D printing provides the ability to rapidly implement innovation by controlling production from design through implementation with one digital model…By providing affordable, innovative solutions for our customers with a reduced timeline, we are able to adjust to the rapidly changing environment of military space.”
AEHF-6 will be the sixth of its kind to be launched by the U.S. Air Force, with the capacity equal to that of 5 Milstar satellites which were launched between 1994 and 2003. Lockheed Martin has already utilized 3D printing on other projects, including using a 3D printed part om NASA’s Juno Jupiter orbiter. The company also plans to use this 3D printed remote unit as a framework for further 3D printed components, including their 3D printed fuel tanks for the A2100 satellite bus.