While many see 3D printing as a faster way to prototype (or, more erroneously, make clever paperweights) some makers are setting their sights on the stars.

The space conglomerate Thales Alenia Space has created 3D printed antennae support structures for satellites that, once they’re in orbit, will be the largest 3D printed spacecraft parts ever made.

The strange looking prints are going to hitch a ride on the Koreasat 5A and 7 telecom satellites, which will provide communication services to various Asian countries.  On the satellites, they will be providing support to the telemetry and command antenna.

The two satellites that will be using 3D printed parts.
The two satellites that will be using 3D printed parts.

But their job isn’t the only unique thing about them, as these aren’t the regular plastic prints that are usually seen. The prints are made out of aluminium and quite large at 45cm X 40cm X 21cm. They also weren’t created with an ordinary 3D printer , but rather a very special one that uses lasers.

The Concept Laser Xline 1000R 3D printer beat the record for “build volume in high precision metal 3D printing” in July this year.

Between the 3D printing and a design based on organic matter, the parts come in 22% lighter and 30% cheaper than existing designs, and reduced production time by “one or two months”. The parts also recently passed their vibration tests and are ready to go into space.

It seems like the end of the year is going to be a good time for makers in space, as special versions of the Raspberry Pi (rightly named “Astro Pi”) will be sent to the International Space Station in December.

[Source – Thales Alenia Space]