This article originally appeared in the June 10, 2019 issue of SpaceNews magazine.
The Swedish engineering firm Sandvik is looking for space applications for the 3D-printed diamond composite it unveiled at a recent additive manufacturing conference.
“We are material experts and additive manufacturing experts,” said Anders Ohlsson, Sandvik additive manufacturing delivery manager. “When it comes to applications, we come up with ideas but we need to work together with the experts in each industry.”
Sandvik announced the first 3D-printed diamond composite in May at the RAPID + TCT additive manufacturing conference in Detroit. “We have learned to print this diamond composite in virtually any shape with 3D printing,” Ohlsson said in an interview.
To create the diamond composite, Sandvik relies on a manufacturing process called stereolithography to build parts, layer by layer, from a slurry of diamond and a polymer. Then, Sandvik solidifies the parts, comprised of 50 percent diamond composite parts, through a proprietary post-processing step.
Sandvik worked for years to create a diamond composite because diamond has unique material properties. It is stronger than steel and conducts heat better than copper. It is similar in density to aluminum and its thermal expansion is similar to the iron-nickel alloy Invar.
“Most materials have one unique property but this diamond composite has a whole number of interesting properties,” Ohlsson said.
With the new material, customers could produce parts related to the thermal management of spacecraft, “utilizing the conductivity to cool something down or even heat something up,” Ohlsson said. Or, Sandvik could create extremely rigid mountings for spacecraft sensors or antennas with the diamond composite, he added.
Sandvik has begun printing diamond composite parts for customer evaluation. “Today, we make prototypes in a number of projects,” Ohlsson said. “We plan to begin serial production when they are tested.”
Sandvik produces other components for space operations. Sandvik’s Osprey controlled expansion alloys — lightweight silicon-aluminum alloys designed for limited expansion — are in the infrared focal plane of the primary instrument in NASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope. WFIRST is an astrophysics mission focused on dark energy, dark matter and exoplanets.
NASA has sought to cancel WFIRST and other Earth science and astrophysics missions in recent years. NASA dropped WFIRST from its 2019 budget request but Congress restored funding. A similar battle is shaping for up 2020. Once again, NASA did not request any WFIRST money but House appropriations have called for continuation of the project. Congress will determine WFIRST’s fate if and when the House and Senate agree on NASA’s 2020 budget.