MT Aerospace AG defining standards for 3D printing in the space sector

ESA places 11-million-euro contract

The European Space Agency (ESA) has awarded MT Aerospace AG, a member of the high-tech group OHB SE, a contract to set technical standards for additive manufacturing processes (3D printing) in the space sector. The contract is worth €11 million, has a term of 3 years and is aimed at qualifying 3D processes and large-volume components for space applications.

DED-unit Modulo 400 during exposure  © MT Aerospace AG
DED-unit Modulo 400 during exposure
© MT Aerospace AG

"Additive Manufacturing as a game changer in space transportation vehicles for both propulsion and structural applications, has become an important axis of progress within ESA Space Transportation. AM processes for large launcher structures will offer ways to reduce raw material usage, lead times for part production and manufacturing costs while maintaining or improving the performance of the end product," explains Luis Escudero, who is Core FLPP*) Manager in the Space Transportation Systems Directorate at ESA.

The objective is to establish a standardized additive manufacturing process that is certified for aerospace applications, starting with material input and ending with the finished component. The focus is on large aluminum components that can be integrated, for example, in structural elements of the European Ariane 6 launcher and in aircraft. "Additive manufacturing enables us to delve even deeper into topics such as lightweighting, reducing assemblies or cutting costs – all of which are current requirements in the space sector. Established manufacturing processes are supplemented by AM manufacturing processes, and together they enable us to take major steps towards the future," explains Markus Axtner, who is responsible for additive manufacturing at MT Aerospace AG.

"Large high-performance structures and tanks, the handling of different types of materials and the development of certified and reproducible manufacturing processes are the basis of our business model. We have been an internationally recognized and reliable supplier for over 50 years. The fact that ESA is now also placing their trust in us regarding the extremely promising additive manufacturing process fills me with great pride,” says Hans Steininger, CEO of MT Aerospace AG.

New options on a solid basis
Large structures, in particular, are not widespread in today's AM world, so MT Aerospace AG is entering new territory with the FLPP project "Large AM Structures", especially in the field of metal AM, and is doing considerable pioneering work.

"After decades of working in the aerospace sector, dealing with verifiable documentation, high reproducibility of manufacturing processes and the highest quality standards are part of our daily routine. In the still young market of additive manufacturing, this is of benefit to us," adds Hans Steininger. "We are also an innovative and reliable partner in this field with an extended service portfolio ranging from feasibility studies and design optimization for parts to be manufactured additively up to non-destructive testing of additively manufactured components."

Launching technology development, qualifying processes
MT Aerospace AG has been supplying structural components and tanks to the aerospace industry for many years. What sets the company apart is the very high proportion of engineering it brings to new projects. "From the idea to the finished product - this principle has already been used to create numerous successful products in Augsburg. In the same way, new structures for lightweight components are now being developed in this FLPP project," adds Markus Axtner. "We are laying the foundations here for something that can generate a significant boost in several respects: From design, through production, and right down to cost."

*) ESA's Future Launchers Preparatory Programme (FLPP) aims to bring key enabling technologies to Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 6 maturity, meaning they are ready for industrialization.

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