The German company TRUMPF and the European space start-up The Exploration Company are cooperating on the construction of core components for spacecraft for missions in Earth orbit and to the moon. The Exploration Company will use 3D printers from the laser specialist to print core components of the Huracán and Mistral engines for the Nyx Earth and Nyx Moon spacecraft in Planegg near Munich as early as spring 2024.
The aim is to make the Huracán engine reusable and refuelable in orbit with bio-methane and oxygen. “Our aim is to offer space missions more cost-effectively than was previously possible. Our spacecraft can benefit from TRUMPF’s manufacturing and application expertise. TRUMPF has decades of experience in the production of high-precision components,” says Hélène Huby, CEO of The Exploration Company. The start-up plans to send a space capsule orbiting the Earth for several months in an initial mission in 2026. Further missions are planned to go to the moon from 2028. The spacecraft will initially carry cargo, but in the long term, humans will also fly on board.
The start-up has so far raised 65 million euros from private and public investors. The European company employs a total of around 120 people at its sites in Planegg near Munich and Bordeaux. Commercial space travel is considered a growth industry. Experts estimate that the global market for the production of aircraft and spacecraft will grow to 740 billion euros by 2023.
Aerospace companies rely on 3D printing
“With our 3D printing technology, we are driving the commercialization of the space industry. If you want to be successful in the space industry today, you have to use additive manufacturing,” says Tobias Brune, responsible for the additive manufacturing business at TRUMPF. Designers use additive manufacturing to combine entire assemblies into a single component. This saves weight and reduces complexity. Every gram saved reduces fuel costs. In addition, less complex components reduce the cost of safety tests before the rocket launch and increase the probability of a successful mission in space.
With the help of 3D printers, The Exploration Company saves valuable raw materials. The systems only use the material that will ultimately be flown into space. In the past, aerospace companies produced components using conventional manufacturing methods such as stamping, forging and casting. Much of the material ended up as waste.
Additive manufacturing enables rapid prototype development, which normally takes a lot of time in the aerospace industry. Users can make improvements to the prototype at the click of a mouse using the design software. The 3D printer then produces the new prototype within a few hours. With conventional manufacturing methods, these complex geometries are sometimes impossible to complete and production would take several weeks or months.