Boeing to use 3D printing for its modular satellites

The new manufacturing method could not only save significant costs but also benefit from an improved technological upgrade cycle.

Known for manufacturing huge, gigantic satellites that cost a bomb, nearly $150 million, aerospace giant Boeing plans on adopting new production practices which could significantly lower its production costs.

The Wall Street Journal has reported, Boeing plans on capitalizing on the growing use of 3D-printed parts by creating satellites that use the technology.

The procedures it currently uses require customized manual assembly, takes a long time to build and comes at a massive cost.

As per Paul Rusnock, chief of Boeing’s satellite business, the company will find it hard to sustain itself and remain competitive with its manufacturing process.

Companies that make more cost effective satellites are using modular components that are not only more economical to make but are reusable too.

You can apparently count the number of satellites Boeing makes on your two hands. On the other hand, Europe’s Airbus and a startup called OneWeb are planning on manufacturing automated assembly lines for satellites in Florida that can crank out hundreds of small satellites, which will individually cost just $500,000.

It wouldn’t be fair to expect Boeing to compete at that price level since it makes significantly bigger satellites, however it will have to find ways to slash production cost pretty soon.

As per Rusnock, there’s nothing stopping Boeing from “realizing huge reductions in production schedules.”

If Boeing can build an entire 737 in just 11 days, it has to find the means and resources to build a spacecraft in a shorter span of time than it currently takes now. That at least, it is ultimate objective.

It is in this context, that Boeing is finding a new friend in 3D printing.

There is a downside to modular satellites: they have a lifespan of 7-8 years, 50% shorter than the lifespan of their hand-assembled counterparts.

However, this need not be a deficiency. Shorter lifespans implies satellites with better technologies can be flung into space at more regular intervals.


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