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AM for rockets and satellites

Orders worth millions from the space industry

26 June 2023

Oerlikon AM has signed contracts with Airbus and ArianeGroup for the supply of 3D-printed components for the space industry totaling EUR 4.7 million. Additive Manufacturing will be used to produce aluminum antenna clusters for Airbus and heat exchangers for the new Ariane 6 rocket.

Image: Oerlikon
Image: Oerlikon

The antenna clusters will be used in a number of communications satellites and have a project volume of 3.8 million euros. Oerlikon AM and Airbus have been working together in the field of 3D printed metal parts for space for more than ten years, developing components, several of which are already in orbit.

The aluminum antenna clusters measure approximately 400x400x400 mm and are manufactured using Selective Laser Melting technology. These antennas are part of next-generation communication satellites that will transmit and receive communication and/or data signals in K-band frequency.

A few weeks instead of six months

Advanced technologies like Additive Manufacturing are key in space applications to deliver benefits such as weight reduction. Moreover, satellites must meet extremely challenging mass, reliability and sustainability requirements. According to Oerlikon AM helped to reduce the production lead time for an antenna cluster from six months to a few weeks compared to conventional manufacturing. 

Airbus not only successfully builds aircraft, but also satellites. Image: Airbus
Airbus not only successfully builds aircraft, but also satellites. Image: Airbus

“The key success factor is the specific AM machine setup, which allows the family of geometries to be reproduced with the required accuracy and the process to be indefinitely repeated. Thus, we met the high accuracy and quality requirements of Airbus, and consequently the specified European Space Agency (ESA) standards for satellites,” says Hendrik Alfter, Managing Director, Oerlikon AM.

In addition to aluminum 3D printing, the two parties have jointly fine-tuned the post processing as a key part of the process development. As an all-round service provider, Oerlikon AM offers Airbus printing, post processing and surface finish optimization for the best possible RF (radio frequency) performance, precision CNC (computer numerical control) milling, quality assurance, ultrasonic cleaning, assembly, and wire integration, as well as customized logistics. Oerlikon AM is a registered and qualified supplier to Airbus and passes audits annually.

AM parts for the Ariane 6 rocket

The new Ariane 6 rocket. Image: ESA/David Ducros
The new Ariane 6 rocket. Image: ESA/David Ducros

The order for the production of 3D-printed heat exchangers for ArianeGroup is worth 900,000 euros. Oerlikon expects Ariane 6 to play a key role in Europe's space activities. 3D printed aluminum parts from Oerlikon AM will act as heat management devices (heat exchangers) for onboard equipment, supporting the performance and flexibility of the new launcher.

After its initial launch, Ariane 6 shall take-off several times per year into various orbits, including low Earth orbit, geostationary transfer orbit and sun-synchronous orbit. Thus, the set of heat exchangers were explicitly designed for serial production.


  • Aviation and aerospace