3D Printing has set off a new space race

A space race is going to take place, with due credits to 3-D printing. In this instance, it does not have anything to do with government agencies competing with each other to send astronauts into space. This time around, it is competitors like aerospace startups. Examples include Rocket Lab and Relativity Space, aiming to satellites into orbit. 

Small satellites are in huge demand because of their full range of utility. Their features include tracking weather systems, providing internet connection to remote locations and taking snaps of our planet. About 263 launches are slated to occur in 2018, according to aerospace engineering firm SpaceWorks. The organization has the opinion that around 2600 Nano-satellites and microsatellites should be launched in the next five years. To meet this demand, the space industry would need many rockets which can carry these satellites to the orbit. Additionally, they have to be manufactured cheaply and quickly.

According to Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab, cost and frequency are the significant barriers to space. Small satellites are required to wait for years to reach to the orbit. They are even carried as a secondary payload on big launch vehicles. It might result in delays because of the primary payload.

Rocket Lab has been able to deal with the launch frequency problem. The solution was to make a standardized launch vehicle for small satellites. Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket was sent and first reached orbit in January. It has deployed three CubeSats for its clients Planet Labs and Spire Global. With its demand piling up, Rocket Lab is heavily reliant on 3-D printing to ensure its engine production model is feasible. 

Rocket Lab can manufacture an engine in days using 3-D printing, instead of the months needed using traditional methods. It will also help in reducing manufacturing costs. 

Relativity Space cofounded former employees of SpaceX and Blue Origin, want to ramp up the automated rocket production process. The Terran one midsize rocket will be 3-D printed. It will be done using Stargate, which is the organization’s 3-D printer. Relativity aims to bring down the rocket printing process to 60 days. It can be partially made possible by paring down Terran’s design. While modern rockets contain 100,000 separate components, Terran 1 will contain less than 1000.

Relativity’s rocket can carry payloads of about 1250 kg.  Relativity’s CEO, Tim Ellis opined that the demand for small and mid-sized satellites has increased. Stargate can help in ensuring they can construct vehicles to carry these payloads.