Lockheed Martin, the aerospace and defense contractor, is the Pentagon’s biggest supplier. But as competitors such as SpaceX continue to innovate, and at reduced prices, Lockheed Martin has been forced to compete by embracing 3D Printing.
To reduce costs, Lockheed Martin will begin 3D printing flight components to cut down on the cost of manufacturing satellites. Eventually, they also hope to print an entire satellite. In a talk with Reuters, Lockheed Martin vice-president of military space Mark Valerio said that, “in the next decade, we will completely change the way a satellite is designed and built. We will print a satellite.”
By embracing 3D printing, Lockheed has been able to reduce the manufacturing costs of a new missile-warning satellite by 40%, thus scoring a lucrative Air Force contract. In addition, 3D printing is allowing Lockheed to build parts faster, as they no longer have to outsource the manufacturing to outside suppliers.
However, Elon Musk’s SpaceX has been using 3D printing for over a year now. They use a virtual reality system combined with a 3D laser metal printer to build their flight components, which is a system Lockheed is also beginning to adopt.
While Lockheed will eventually try to print an entire satellite at once, they are currently using 3D printing to print their titanium satellite parts. By heating the titanium, they can print it layer by layer, which allows the creation of virtually any shape.
Of course, with 3D printing becoming cheaper and more readily accessible, this may lead to even more competitors for Lockheed Martin. Nasa is even getting in on the 3D printing game, having tested a rocket injector last year that outperformed traditionally manufactured components, and set a record-breaking 22,000 pounds of thrust.
As companies continue to innovate through technology, we’ll get cheaper, lighter components, all without having to wait. Just wait until we start 3D printing in space.