Design Engineering

Lockheed Martin creates giant satellite fuel tank, sets record for 3D printed space parts

Devin Jones   

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Made from titanium, the 3D printed end caps can hold 74.4 litres of fuel and cut down production time from three years to three months.


This infographic shows the scale of the 3-D printed domes, their placement on the tank and overall location within an LM 2100 satellite. /Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin’s gigantic satellite fuel tank recently completed final rounds of quality testing, marking the end of a multi-year development program to create giant, high-pressure tanks that carry fuel on board satellites.

Consisting of three parts welded together, the project signifies a leap forward in the use of 3D technology in space, since the biggest object prior this 44-inch fuel tank was no bigger than a toaster.

Utilizing two 3D-printed domes that will act as caps, and a traditionally-manufactured titanium cylinder forming the body, the giant high-pressure tank can hold up to 74.4 litres of fuel within the domes

“As our largest 3-D printed parts to date show, we’re committed to a future where we produce satellites twice as fast and at half the cost,” said Rick Ambrose, Lockheed Martin Space executive vice president.


A Lockheed Martin engineer inspects one of the 3-D printed dome prototypes at the company’s space facility in Denver./Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin

One of the benefits of using 3D technology was the amount of time it took to get ready – three months instead of the planned three years if manufactured through a traditional process. Part of the time and cost problem normally associated with a project like this is the effort it takes to create titanium forgings that are four-feet wide and four inches thick. The cylinder that forms the middle was easier to construct since it’s a sheet of titanium moulded into shape instead of massive structures that would have had to be whittled away to create the domes.

According to Ambrose, AM technologies shaved off 87 per cent of their production time, bringing the fuel capsule within the aforementioned three months.

The domes were creating using Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing, at a facility in Denver Colorado.

“We self-funded this design and qualification effort as an investment in helping our customers move faster and save costs,” explained Ambrose. “These tanks are part of a total transformation in the way we design and deliver space technology.” 


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