Extreme conditions for small thruster units
Temperatures of over 1250 °C, more than 600 ignitions with no signs of wear or fatigue—this is all in a day’s work for the highly complex thruster units in a satellite’s propulsion systems. But the thruster that recently passed a hot-fire test at the Airbus Defense & Space facility in Lampoldshausen, Germany, as part of a European Space Agency (ESA) project, is something special. For the first time, it was produced entirely using a 3D printer.
Previously the thruster units, measuring only eight to ten centimeters, were assembled in a multi-step process, which Heraeus has used for years in precious metal alloys. Thanks to 3D printing, however, the process is now quicker and saves resources, since less waste is produced.
Launch of the first satellite with 3D-printed thruster nozzles already planned for 2017
The hot-fire test represents a milestone for the Heraeus’s 3D startup, which is developing the precious metal powder for 3D printing that was used in this test. The group is working to develop powders from platinum, rhodium, and iridium for creating high-strength components for thrusters on navigation satellites. The Heraeus team is currently working on a 3D printing powder from an even more resilient platinum/iridium alloy. Launch of the first satellite with 3D-printed thruster nozzles already planned for 2017.