Lockheed Martin uses MakerBot 3D printing technology as it develops an AI-assisted lunar rover for NASA’s Artemis program.
A user of MakerBot 3D printing technology for about five years, Lockheed Martin recently added the MakerBot METHOD X platform to its Advanced Technology Center (ATC) in Palo Alto, where parts of the rover’s autonomy system are designed. and developed.
Applications for MakerBot’s 3D printers include a number of parts for prototyping, as well as proof-of-concept components for the rover project, such as embedded systems housings, sensor mounts, and other custom parts. . In printing many of these parts, which were designed to withstand desert heat, UV exposure, humidity and other environmental conditions, Lockheed Martin used the MakerBot ABS and Stratasys SR soluble backing materials. -30. By using these materials, MakerBot ABS helps provide a smoother surface finish, while the soluble backing material opens up more organic shapes that would otherwise be impossible.
âWe are in the very early stages of development and the rover we have at ATC is a test bed that we designed and developed in-house,â commented Aaron Christian, senior mechanical engineer at Lockheed Martin Space. “This affordable modular test bench allows us to make rapid changes using 3D printing to change the design of other applications, be it military, search and rescue, d nuclear applications and simply the need for autonomy in extreme environments. “
One of the parts printed with MakerBot technology for the rover was a mount for a LIDAR, a sensor that can help determine proximity to objects around it. Designed to sit on the rover, the stand was printed in ABS rather than PLA to allow it to withstand more extreme conditions. The bracket allows engineers to constantly swap the LIDAR with different sensors, such as stereo cameras and directional antennas, while it has also been designed to ensure proper air circulation so that the room can stay cool during of its use. PLA has, however, been used in the printing of an integrated electronics box that protects the electronics from anything that might fall on them. This part is designed to fit inside the rover or other ATC robots and has the required open airflow to cool the system.
Lockheed Martin turned to 3D printing because of its ability to cut costs, the ability to leverage a digital inventory of parts files, and its design skills.
âA big advantage to testing and flying 3D printed parts for space applications is that it simplifies the design,â Christian said. âYou can create more complex shapes. It reduces the number of fasteners needed and the number of parts, which is a huge savings as one less part has to be tested or assembled. This also paves the way for a future in-situ assembly in space. You designed, printed and tested the coin on Earth. Now you know that in the future you will be able to 3D print that same part in space because you have shown that the material and the part work there.
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