AEROSPACE APPLICATION

Redwire’s Ceramic Manufacturing Module Successfully 3D Prints Turbine Blisk in Space

Ceramic Manufacturing Module
Ceramic Manufacturing Module
Above: Redwire 3D printed turbine blisk/Image Source: Redwire

Redwire, a new leader in mission critical space solutions and high reliability components for the next generation space economy, announced recently that its Ceramic Manufacturing Module (CMM) has successfully 3D printed a ceramic part in space for the first time.

The Ceramic Manufacturing Module, developed by Redwire’s subsidiary Made in Space for in-space manufacturing capability, successfully operated with full autonomy using additive Stereolithography (SLA) technology and pre-ceramic resins to manufacture a single-piece ceramic turbine blisk (a portmanteau of bladed disk) on orbit along with a series of material test coupons.

The successful 3D printing of these test samples in space is an important milestone to demonstrate the proof-of-potential for Ceramic Manufacturing Module to produce ceramic parts that exceed the quality of turbine components made on Earth. The ceramic turbine blisk and test coupons will be stowed and returned to Earth for analysis, aboard the SpaceX Dragon CRS-21 spacecraft.

CERAMIC MANUFACTURING MODULE (CMM)

Ceramic Manufacturing Module
Above: The CMM developed by Redwire subsidiary Made In Space/Image Source: Made In Space

The Ceramics Manufacturing Module (CMM) is a commercial manufacturing facility that produces ceramic parts in microgravity for terrestrial use. Ceramics Manufacturing Module demonstrates the viability of manufacturing with pre-ceramic resins in an additive Stereolithography (SLA) environment, which is a new manufacturing technique for the International Space Station ecosystem.

The in-space manufacturing device aims to demonstrate the feasibility of manufacturing single-piece ceramic turbine components in microgravity, a process that could lead to turbine parts with higher strength and lower residual stress due to the absence of gravity-induced defects such as sedimentation and composition gradients.

According to Tom Campbell, president of Made In Space, “This is an exciting milestone for space enabled manufacturing and signals the potential for new markets that could spur commercial activity in low Earth orbit. Building on our in-space manufacturing expertise and our partnership with NASA, Redwire is developing advanced manufacturing processes on orbit that could yield sustainable demand from terrestrial markets and creating capabilities that will allow humanity to sustainably live and work in space.”

CMM aims to demonstrate that ceramic manufacturing in microgravity could enable temperature-resistant, reinforced ceramic parts with better performance, including higher strength and lower residual stress. For high-performance applications such as turbines, nuclear plants, or internal combustion engines, even small strength improvements can yield years-to-decades of superior service life.

Michael Snyder, chief technology officer of Redwire commented, “The Ceramic Manufacturing Module’s successful on-orbit operations is an important step towards full-scale manufacturing of materials products that can improve industrial machines that we use on Earth. The space manufacturing capabilities demonstrated by CMM have the potential to stimulate demand in low Earth orbit from terrestrial markets which will be a key driver for space industrialization.”

Ceramics Manufacturing Module was developed in partnership with the ISS Research Integration Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The ceramic facility is one of three ISS pilot payloads developed through this partnership that aims to catalyze and scale demand for commercial capabilities in low Earth orbit by producing high-value products for terrestrial use. Made In Space first demonstrated the SLA printing technology found inside CMM through a series of parabolic flights funded through NASA’s Flight Opportunities program in 2016.  

Additional technical partners for the CMM mission include HRL Laboratories of Malibu, California and Sierra Turbines of San Jose, California.

The successful Ceramic Manufacturing Module mission builds upon Redwire’s flight heritage with four other additive manufacturing facilities developed by the Made In Space team that have successfully flown and operated on the space station.

About Redwire: Redwire is a new leader in mission critical space solutions and high reliability components for the next generation space economy. With decades of flight heritage combined with the agile and innovative culture of a commercial space platform, Redwire is uniquely positioned to assist its customers in solving the complex challenges of future space missions.


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