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IamSPACE: Italy for Additive Manufacturing in Space

Additive Manufacturing (AM) is deeply changing the way in which parts for space applications are designed and manufactured. Almost every major stakeholder within the space industry is assessing the potential of AM to enhance the performance of their products in terms of improved stiffness-to-weight ratio, novel embedded functionalities, implementation of new materials, etc. Although a large part of AM procedures today is limited to non-critical components, the space industry is aiming to extend the adoption of AM to structural and mission-critical applications, but the qualification of AM structural parts needs a very costly and time-consuming series of tests, on both samples and full-scale parts. However, this is still not sufficient to guarantee that following parts will be acceptable. Due to the impossibility to test a sufficient number of parts to ensure the strict reliability requirements, it is crucial to determine the maximum acceptable defect limit for the most severe service condition (fatigue or static) of a given component for the sake of its inspection and qualification. At the same time, the space industry is looking into the adoption of novel rapid qualification techniques to decrease the product development time and costs.

IamSPACE is a project funded by the European Space Agency (ESA) that fits within this framework and aims at tackling in a synergic way these two challenges that are currently preventing the widespread adoption of AM:

  • in the first part (phase 1, lead by Prof. Stefano Beretta of Politecnico di Milano), the project will develop, test and validate a methodology to characterize the effects of AM specific defects under severe static loads and set maximum acceptable defect sizes through fracture mechanics methods.
  • the second part (phase 2, lead by Prof. Bianca M. Colosimo of Politecnico di Milano) of the project regards the reduction of non-destructive inspection and ex-situ measurement efforts in the additive production of highly loaded mission-critical space components through the development and validation of a process monitoring method (PMM). The layerwise production paradigm of AM enables novel opportunities for in-line data gathering via in-situ sensors that can be used to keep under control the process, identify unstable states and detect the onset of flaws in part. This opens to new qualification strategies that can take advantage of in-situ gathered data.

For this purpose, the IamSPACE project aims at putting together an excellence network composed by companies and research centers with state-of-the-art facilities, capacities and equipment in the field of AM.

The IamSPACE project, under the lead of Prof. Bianca M. Colosimo of Politecnico di Milano, main contractor, gathers a consortium of six top Italian companies and research Institutions in AM for Space applications. Two end-users (Leonardo and Avio) focusing on different product types (space structural and propulsion components) will bring the project attention to challenges of mission critical components additively produced with different target performances and using different materials (Aluminum and Nickel-based alloys). Two universities (Politecnico di Milano and Politecnico di Torino) will be driving the research activities with their top-level and internationally renowned research teams on AM materials, AM process challenges, structural assessment of AM products and in-situ monitoring of AM processes. The consortium also includes one of the top Italian producers of powder bed AM systems (Prima Industrie) to aid in process sensing and in the creation of solutions for the upcoming generation of AM machines for space applications. Fondazione E. Amaldi (FEA) completes the team with its expertise on long-term research focus on AM challenges for Space.

The IamSPACE project is a two-years project that started in July of 2020 and it is planned to close in July 2022. The project has already produced its first results, including:

  • The establishment of an updated defect catalogue for powder bed fusion processes
  • Two in-depth state-of-the-art reviews on the main topics of the project:
    • Structural assessment methods for AM
    • Process monitoring methods

In the upcoming months, the production of ad-hoc verification samples will be completed using the consortium facilities to provide test and validation data for the methods that are currently under development for both phase 1 and phase 2. The methods developed within IamSPACE are planned to be implemented in future projects for the development of new mission-critical space components, giving a new push forward to the application of AM to space industry.