Sixth AEHF Satellite Uses 3-D Printed Component

With the production of the Air Force’s sixth Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite, Lockheed Martin is using a 3-D printed component in one of its military satellites for the first time. The 3-D printed part is a Remote Interface Unit, an aluminum box used to hold avionic circuits. Three-D printing reduced manufacturing time for the part from six months to 45 days and assembly time from 12 hours to three, according to Brian O’Connor, vice president of production operations. The RIU deployment is part of a larger Lockheed shift toward additive manufacturing, a process of 3-D printing that builds a product, using digital modeling software, through layering materials, O’Connor told reporters at the company’s Littleton, Colo., facility Monday. He said Lockheed is experimenting with building rocket fuel tanks using a large metal electron beam additive manufacturing process. Ultimately, Lockheed wants to forge many of the more unique components for its defense systems in its own facility. O’Connor said such a process could reduce the amount of time required to produce a satellite from 40 months to 18. The AEHF constellation currently has three satellites in orbit, and the Air Force declared initial operational capability on the system in July 2015. The sixth AEHF satellite is scheduled to launch in 2019.