Boeing deploys 3D printing to cut US Space Force asset delivery time in half


Aerospace manufacturer Boeing has started using 3D printing to accelerate its production of a Wideband Global SATCOM or “WGS” satellite for the US Space Force.

Working under a $605 million contract, Boeing is building the US Space Force’s next-generation WGS-11+, a system with far greater mission support and anti-jamming capabilities. important than its predecessors. By introducing 3D printing into the communications satellite’s workflow, the company expects to significantly reduce the lead time of the device, from ten years to just five years.

“We are moving at record speed to deliver the unparalleled resiliency, efficiency and throughput that WGS-11+ delivers to our warfighters,” said Col. Matt Spencer, Space Systems Command Geosynchronous Earth Orbit Hardware Manager. and polar division. “Boeing’s ability to quickly integrate the latest commercial technologies into our infrastructure gives us a competitive edge on the battlefield.”

A rendering of what WGS-11+ should look like. Image via Boeing.

3D printing of flight-ready parts

As a multinational manufacturer with aircraft to build and maintain in a large portfolio, Boeing is continually looking for more efficient ways to achieve this. One of the barriers to deploying 3D printing in this area is the high level of regulatory clearance needed to deploy parts in end-use applications, but the company has become increasingly adept at overcoming this. with industry partners.

Working with EOS, for example, the company has already helped develop an aerospace-grade PEKK designed specifically to meet flame and UV standards set out in federal aviation regulations, and more recently it has qualified the Stratasys Antero 800NA filament as a flight filament. -ready, as well as exploring the potential of durable titanium 3D printing powders alongside Titomic.

Boeing is also known for applying additive manufacturing in several areas of its own production flow, including building its 777X jet, which is powered by GE9X engines with over 300 3D printed parts. Likewise, in collaboration with the US Air Force Research Laboratory and Thermwood, it would have 3D-printed aerospace autoclave tools capable of cost-effectively scaling to iteration.

As for LEO device manufacturing, Boeing unveiled its plan to 3D print satellites in 2017, and it has since launched the SES-15 system with more than 50 additive fabricated components, and used the technology to produce everything from metal. from antennas to modular parts designed to speed up spacecraft production.

The Boeing 777X jet and the GE9x engine.  Photo via Boeing
The Boeing 777X jet and partially 3D printed GE9X engine. Photo via Boeing

Improving U.S. Defense Coordination

Since being contracted to do so in 2019, Boeing has been hard at work developing the US Space Force’s latest WGS system, the eleventh in a constellation designed to connect US, Canadian and Australian forces. . Designed to replace the old configuration of the Defense Satellite Communication System, which is still used for military coordination, WGS devices are generally expected to allow much higher throughput.

Now, as part of its program, Boeing says it has successfully incorporated some of the advances made through its R&D on the 702X satellite, to take those benefits to the next level. Built around the same phased array technology, WGS-11+ is expected to be able to generate hundreds of electronically steered beams at the same time, giving users more than twice the mission capability of existing WGS satellites.

Additionally, just like the 720X, each individual beam can be shaped and therefore tailored to the needs of a specific operation, meaning US Space Force adopters stand to gain from flexibility and responsiveness. enhanced mission capabilities, while WGS-11+ can also use dual polarization to reduce beamwidth as a means of shielding against interference.

To bring this vision of a revised satellite to life, Boeing met with the US Space Force late last year, during which they completed a critical review of the design before entering its development phase. production. It was at this point that Boeing committed to using advanced manufacturing methods such as 3D printing in the construction of the system, in a way that could yield significant cost and time advantages, while improving its performance.

In fact, through mass additive manufacturing of WGS-11+ parts by the thousands, in a move that would be ten times greater than its previous satellites, the company expects to be able to reduce what is typically a wait time of 7-10 years for large spacecraft down to just 5 years, and the finished system has now been designed for delivery in 2024.

“We print over a thousand parts for WGS-11+, which gives us the ability to introduce customization in a way that improves system performance, without requiring significant integration times or tooling. customized,” adds Troy Dawson, Boeing’s vice president for Government Satellite. Systems. “We understand how important speed is to the mission. This speed of production translates into effectiveness against threats.

“As we continue to invest in our technology and processes, we know that a satellite with similar capabilities could be delivered even faster.”

3D printing signal amplifier satellites

Of course, Boeing is far from the only aircraft manufacturer to have turned to 3D printing in an effort to improve the lead times and final performance of its satellites. In early 2021, Airbus revealed that it had successfully integrated more than 500 RF parts into Eutelsat’s Hotbird satellites, such as switch assembly networks and multi-waveguide blocks, with a way that would improve their dissemination capabilities.

Later that year, Fleet Space also unveiled plans to launch its fully 3D-printed “Alpha” satellites in 2022. Built around the company’s advanced beamforming technology, which operates via an array of antennas Metal additive fabricated systems feature digital signal processing capabilities, designed to unlock greater user connectivity.

In terms of mass production applications, Thales Alenia Space revealed that it was mass manufacturing parts of its Spacebus NEO platform as early as 2019. The device was first installed on the commercial satellite Eutelsat KONNECT, a device designed to provide a faster broadband connection. to parts of Western Europe and Africa.

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The featured image shows a render of what WGS-11+ should look like. Image via Boeing.


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