3D printing for satellites and space industrie

Space X dragon jetpack 3D printed

The space industry is constantly evolving, driven by increased performance requirements and budget constraints. 3D printing is emerging as a revolutionary solution for the space industry. In this article, we explore the concrete possibilities offered by 3D printing in the space sector, and more specifically for satellites.

Geometric complexity in satellites industry

Parts used in the space industry can be very complex geometrically, making traditional manufacturing very time-consuming and costly. 3D printing makes it possible to produce complex parts without the constraints of traditional manufacturing. Complex internal geometries, lightweight structures and optimised shapes can all be produced with ease. As an example, we can observe the complex design of the first aluminium antenna support, made using 3D printing by Thales Alenia Space in 2015

Antenna support, TAS, 2015

Antenna support, TAS, 2015

Reduced weight of parts

Airbus Defence and space estimates that an additional 1kg of satellite weight costs around 10,000 euros at launch. The heavier the satellite, the more fuel is needed for launch. Mass reduction is crucial in the space industry to save fuel and increase payload. Spacecraft require lightweight parts to reduce overall mass and optimise performance. However, traditional manufacturing methods can lead to excessive use of materials, making parts heavier.
3D printing makes it possible to use honeycomb and internal lightweight structures, reducing the amount of material used. For example, Airbus used 3D printing to produce a pipe support part that was 45% lighter than its machined version.

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Customisation and adaptability

In the space industry, mass production is rare. For example, Airbus Defence and Space, Europe’s leading space company, produces an average of three satellites a year. Each satellite requires specific parts tailored to mission requirements, which are themselves highly specific. This makes it very difficult for manufacturers to standardise their production methods and resources. 3D printing makes it possible to produce parts tailored to the specific needs of each space mission. This avoids the costs and production times associated with traditional manufacturing.

High costs

Traditional manufacturing processes used in the space industry, such as CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machining and casting, can be costly due to the complexity of the parts and the need for high technical specifications. Budgets for space missions are extremely high (from a few dozen to several hundred million euros), and with increasing competition on the market, reducing production costs is becoming a major concern for manufacturers.

Overall performance

Additive manufacturing enables the production of geometrically complex components, optimized for performance. For example, SpaceX uses 3D-printed engine nozzles that are lighter, stronger and more efficient than traditional versions. These components improve reliability and reduce satellite weight, resulting in fuel savings and increased payload.

Space X dragon jetpack 3D printed

SpaceX’s SuperDraco engines

In-orbit repair and maintenance

Additive manufacturing opens up possibilities for in-orbit repair and maintenance. For example, NASA has developed a 3D printing system called the “Refabricator” that can recycle astronaut plastic waste and transform it into new objects, including spare parts for satellites. This on-board manufacturing capability reduces dependence on resupply missions and extends the life of satellites.

Refabricator, NASA
Refabricator, NASA

Microsatellites and nanosatellites in 3D printing

Additive manufacturing facilitates the creation of microsatellites and nanosatellites, opening up new opportunities for Earth observation, communication and scientific research. For example, Rocket Lab uses 3D printing to produce small, high-performance propulsion engines for its microsatellites. These compact satellites, manufactured at lower cost thanks to additive manufacturing, offer an economical and versatile alternative to traditional space missions.
3D printed HyperCurie engine
3D printed HyperCurie engine

Application of 3D printing for satellites

A satellite can be broken down into two main subsystems: the payload and the platform. The payload comprises the instruments required for a successful mission. This ranges from the optical assembly for an observation satellite, to the associated antennas and amplifiers for a communications satellite. A satellite’s payload defines its mission. The platform provides the servitudes and all the generic functions required for in-orbit activity. Its various functions are : Mechanical structure, thermal control, propulsion energy generation, storage and distribution, telecommunications, telemetry, remote control and localisation, on-board data processing, storage and management, altitude and orbit control

Application examples

The mechanical structure of a satellite plays a crucial role in the stability, strength and durability of the entire system. 3D printing offers interesting possibilities for the manufacture of lightweight, optimized structural parts:

Panels and supports 3D Printed

Structural panels and supports are key elements of a satellite’s structure. They can be printed using fiber-reinforced composite materials, such as carbon or glass, to achieve high strength while reducing weight. 3D printing can also be used to create complex internal structures to optimize panel rigidity and lightness. In fact, the mechanical structure is made up of panels that are assembled to form a strong, rigid envelope. Sandwich” technology panels are mainly used. An aluminum honeycomb mesh is sandwiched between two aluminum or carbon fiber panels. This technology offers a very attractive weight/performance ratio.

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Custom fasteners

3D printing makes it possible to manufacture custom fixings to precisely integrate payload and platform components. These fasteners can be designed to reduce vibration, ensure precise alignment or facilitate modular satellite assembly.

Deployment mechanisms

Some satellites require deployment mechanisms to deploy antennas, solar panels or other components once in orbit. 3D printing makes it possible to manufacture lightweight, durable deployment mechanisms using suitable materials, such as reinforced polymers or metal alloys.

Lattice structures 3D Printed

3D printing can be used to create complex lattice structures, offering high strength with minimal weight. These structures can be used to reinforce panels, or to create lightweight but strong beams to support satellite components.

Protective shells

Satellites are exposed to hostile environments, including space radiation. 3D printing makes it possible to manufacture tailor-made protective shells using materials adapted to space conditions, offering effective protection against radiation, micrometeorites and space debris.

3D printing of CubeSats​

CubeSat is an artificial satellite format that is most commonly used for very small craft (less than 20 kilograms). CubeSats have gained popularity in the small spacecraft field, offering opportunities for research and development, as well as for corporate involvement in space initiatives. The uniform configuration of these space vehicles helps to reduce the expense and time associated with their creation and production.
In recent times, the number of CubeSats sent into space, often deployed in clusters, has been steadily increasing. In particular, Google and Elon Musk’s SpaceX have ambitious plans to launch around 50,000 CubeSats between them in the current decade.




Additive manufacturing is revolutionising the space industry, offering real possibilities for satellite manufacturing. Thanks to geometric complexity, structural lightening, functional integration and customised production, this technology is pushing back the limits of space exploration, while reducing costs and improving performance.