Relativity Space and 6K Set Up Recyclable 3D Printing System to Build New Rockets
Andrew Wheeler posted on July 03, 2020 |
Closed loop supply chain will reuse scrap as new powder bed material.
(Image courtesy of Relativity Space.)
(Image courtesy of Relativity Space.)

Reusable rockets are the cause célèbre among the aerospace startups SpaceX and Blue Origin. SpaceX has been using 3D printing since 2014, and Velo3D just landed a contract with the famed aerospace company to build more parts and components for its ongoing space program. 3D printing is part of automating manufacturing, which can help keep down the costs of building rockets. In this spirit of automated rocket manufacturing, startup company Relativity Space just announced that it is building the first autonomous rocket factory and launch services for satellite constellations.

Famously, Relativity Space used robotic systems and 3D autonomous manufacturing systems to build Terran 1, the first entirely 3D-printed rocket in history.

To build the autonomous rocket factory and launch services for satellite constellations, Relativity Space is teaming up with 6K, a prominent developer of microwave plasma technology. 6K produces materials for use in several challenging industrial markets, including lithium ion battery manufacturing and additive manufacturing (AM).

Relativity produced valuable scrap material, and in the new partnership, this scrap material will be processed into powder by 6K’s microwave plasma technology. The resulting powder from the scrap material will be used as new material for Relativity’s 3D printing systems. Together, the companies are investigating how to create new and better materials designed to improve the outcome of rocket manufacturing, which they hope will have the effect of improving space travel.

By managing a closed loop of recycled scrap materials and integrating the material into its autonomous robotic factory, Relativity hopes that its partnership with 6K will effectively improve its autonomous robotic factory, one that can already 3D print a rocket in 60 days.

6K’s UniMelt microwave plasma gained attention at Formnext 2019, when the company launched its metal powders for additive manufacturing, a new product that is distinct from other AM materials in that it is sourced entirely of reused scrap material: recycled feedstock, turnings and machine millings, for example.

At the same Formnext conference, 6K also demoed a high entropy alloy (HEA) part that elucidated a previously unknown ability to customize disparate material properties siloed in one material to a single material. These include coupling properties like high strength with extreme elongation, improved strength-to-weight ratios, and better stability of a material across a longer range of temperatures.

Bottom Line

Relativity Space and 6K’s partnership will phase from proof of concept to a finished 3D-printed part. The scrap material will come directly from Relativity’s manufacturing systems and the company will run the material through 6K’s UniMelt process. The resulting powder will be used to 3D print a part for a rocket.

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