SSL additively expands additive manufacturing from brackets to antenna towers

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This article originally appeared in the Oct. 22, 2018 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

With four more of its satellites launched between July 22 and Sept. 25, Space Systems Loral now has more than 1,000 additively manufactured parts in orbit on 15 spacecraft.

By printing flight hardware with aluminum, titanium and plastic materials, SSL is reducing mass, lowering cost and shortening spacecraft assembly schedules, said Jillian Gorsuch, additive manufacturing technology manager for SSL, a Maxar Technologies company. “Using additively manufactured parts also provides design flexibility and, in most cases, improves spacecraft performance,” she said by email.

Jillian Gorsuch, additive manufacturing technology manager for SSL, a Maxar Technologies company. Credit: SSL
Jillian Gorsuch, additive manufacturing technology manager for SSL, a Maxar Technologies company. Credit: SSL

SSL’s first large printed structure was the antenna strut tower on Sky Perfect JSAT’s JCSAT-110A communications satellite launched in December 2016. That tower combined 37 printed titanium nodes. For comparison, Hispasat’s 30W-6 communications satellite launched in March 2018 included more than 200 additively manufactured metal and polymer components, including 72 titanium nodes in an antenna tower nearly three times the size of JCSAT-110A’s.

In September, SSL flew its first printed aluminum parts, brackets on Telesat’s Telstar 18 Vantage communications satellite. The brackets save mass without sacrificing cost or schedule, said Gorsuch.

SSL established an Additive Center of Excellence near its Palo Alto, California, headquarters six years ago. There, SSL’s additive manufacturing team has developed a proprietary qualification and production approach.

“Each additive manufacturing production process has hundreds of variables to control, and it takes time and effort to prove both to ourselves and to our customers that a new technology is reliable and effective,” Gorsuch said. “We take great care to validate the repeatability of the production process and the performance of the resulting parts.”

Gorsuch, a mechanical engineer who promotes the use of additive manufacturing in SSL-built spacecraft, was honored Oct. 9 by the Space & Satellite Professionals International with a 2018 Promise Award. The award is given annually to three professionals age 35 and under for outstanding achievement early in their careers.