The US Air Force's sixth Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF-6) satellite will feature the first 3-D printed part, a Remote Interface Unit, an aluminum electronic enclosure designed to hold avionic circuits.
By going from multiple machined parts to one 3-D printed part, Lockheed Martin was able to save time in the design and production cycle, as well as increase the quality and consistency of the units, the company press release stated. The lead time for manufacturing the part went from six months to only 1.5 months, with assembly time also being reduced from 12 hours to just three hours.
"3-D printing provides the ability to rapidly implement innovation by controlling production from design through implementation with one digital model," said Iris Bombelyn, vice president of Protected Communications at Lockheed Martin Space Systems. "By providing affordable, innovative solutions for our customers with a reduced timeline, we are able to adjust to the rapidly changing environment of military space."
AEHF is a global military satellite communications system that provides protected, assured communication for strategic commanders and tactical warfighters. Lockheed Martin will deliver the fourth AEHF vehicle in 2017. AEHF-5 and AEHF-6 are in production and are on track to launch in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
The qualified part onboard AEHF-6 was built using a process called Laser Powder Bed Fusion additive manufacturing, in which a laser melts and fuses aluminum metal powder layer-by-layer to build a part based on a digital design. The electronic enclosure will serve as a model for use on other programs that are designed using the A2100 satellite bus.