During the last 20 years, the terms referring to “Additive Manufacturing” (AM) have evolved significantly. In the early days, reference was made to a process called “rapid prototyping” and “rapid manufacturing” was the consecrated term. This terminology remained even beyond the time in which the community started realising that, in fact, it is not necessarily a rapid process. While fashionable names such as FFF, standing for Free Form Fabrication, or Direct Manufacturing came and disappeared, today mainly two terms are employed: “3D printing” when speaking to a public audience and “Additive Manufacturing” when addressing a technical one. AM technologies represent a world of opportunities for innovation and change the way we think about manufacturing, in particular for highly demanding applications like those encountered in Space Industry. However, understanding what is required to use AM for critical space applications remains challenging.
ESA, the European Space Agency, took a leading role in the development of AM for space starting from the early 2010s. The developments funded by ESA began with mildly loaded brackets and now cover an always-expanding panel of space applications. It quickly became apparent that alongside every successful development new challenges arise that need to be resolved. This presentation will bring insight into some of the completed developments of the past 10+ years which shaped current and future development paths of AM for Space. The focus is ensuring the availability of technologies that will allow designing, manufacturing and testing the next generations of European spacecraft. The presentation will also address the different markets and their associated challenges.