UK scientists have used a new additive manufacturing (AM) process to create a space titanium pressure vessel, reports The Engineer.
According to the researchers, the full-scale prototype will be used as a space test-vehicle for future manned missions.
The vessel – which was produced by engineers from Cranfield, Thales Alenia Space, and Glenalmond Technologies – is made of the titanium alloy Ti-6Al-4V, stands at approximately 1 m in height, and weighs 8.5 kg in mass.
The piece was deposited using the Wire + Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) process, which Cranfield University has pioneered over the last decade.
According to The Engineer, WAAM has integrated two individual pieces into a single part, thereby eliminating the need for long-lead-time forgings, and substantially reducing the amount of waste material removed by machining.
The process has also enabled the team to significantly reduce the mass of the final components. The Cranfield team is now working on methods to deposit closer to the final thickness.
The WAAM shape was manufactured at Cranfield and then sent to Glenalmond Technologies where it was stress-relieved, laser-scanned, machined and inspected using an ultrasonic method.
The final inspection was performed by Agiometrix using a computer tomography for internal quality analysis and an optical scanner.
Thales Alenia Space was tasked with ensuring that the part met the mechanical requirements and specifications.
The team is now building a second prototype in order to carry out fine tuning of the whole manufacturing cycle.
They plan to demonstrate the repeatability and reliability of the process, as well as push the implementation of the new approach into the flight hardware.
Image and content: Cranfield University/The Engineer