SPACE SYMPOSIUM: Millennium Space Systems is preparing to flight test a 3D-printed metal bus designed as a proof-of-concept for its small satellites — potentially including a future medium-Earth orbit constellation currently being studied by the Space Force to track hypersonic missiles.
The goal is to allow customers — especially those in the national security field — to see that metal 3D-printed spacecraft can actually get into orbit and perform like traditional spacecraft, said Jason Kim, CEO of Millennium at Breaking Defense.
The test craft is made of aluminum and titanium and is about half the size of an ESPA-class satellite in volume of 2X2X3 feet, he said. (ESPA stands for Evolved Secondary Payload Adapter, which is a standardized ring-shaped attachment that allows small satellites to share rides on the same rocket.) The company hopes to find a ride for that very soon.
“I’m actively researching,” he said. “I would love to launch it this year, if I could.”
Meanwhile, the company smallsat – which was acquired by Boeing in 2018 – last month took a crucial step in its work under the Space Force Missile Track Custody Prototype (TCD) program to design a tracking constellation of missiles in MEO, optimized to keep tabs on rapidly maneuvering hypersonic missiles.
Space Systems Command (SSC) last May contracted Millennium and Raytheon to deliver a “high-fidelity digital model” by November 2022 to enable the Space Force to undertake, in effect, early orbital tests on the ground via computer.
Lt. Col. Gary Goff, materiel chief for the SSC Missile Track Guard Demonstration, told Breaking Defense in an email that “Raytheon and Millennium Space Systems are on track for critical design review. (CDR) of the payload in November 2022”.
He added that Millennium had completed its “delta” preliminary design review at the end of March 2022; Raytheon did this in February.
Kim explained that although TCD is an MEO program, Millennium’s design could also fly in low Earth orbit and geosynchronous orbit. “Our Track Custody Prototype is a flexible system for any orbit. The way we designed our system gives our customers flexibility,” he said.
And flexibility, Kim noted, is also one of the most valuable aspects of 3D printing for customers in the national security space.
“So what 3D printing lets you do, and what digital engineering lets you do, is pivot when the requirements change, because you can quickly print and quickly prototype,” Kim said. “Nowadays, our national security space customers, they can’t get those capabilities into orbit fast enough, can they, to deal with the threat or to stay ahead of the threatens.”
Millennium’s work on the test structure has shown that 3D printing reduces manufacturing costs by approximately 30% of the traditionally fabricated aluminum honeycomb panels that make up spacecraft, and cuts manufacturing time from six months to one. months, Kim explained.
Boeing and Millennium announced on March 30 that they had built a new factory in El Seguno, Calif. “Designed to build small satellites for different levels of security on the same assembly line, the digitally defined small satellite factory integrates the model-based systems engineering, digital design engineering and design for manufacturability.
The new factory space, Kim said, will allow Millennium to “scale up” and rapidly produce constellations of small satellites.