Home System concept Lockheed Martin once again uses MakerBot 3D printers for its next big space project – an AI-assisted lunar rover for NASA

Lockheed Martin once again uses MakerBot 3D printers for its next big space project – an AI-assisted lunar rover for NASA


Lockheed Martin Space uses the X METHOD to create parts for the lunar rover project, allowing engineers to design, develop and test autonomous systems and processes.

BROOKLYN, NY, September 20, 2021 – MakerBot, a Stratasys company (Nasdaq: SSYS), today announced that Lockheed Martin has expanded its use of MakerBot® 3D printers to produce parts and designs for his next space projects. MakerBot 3D printers have been in use for about five years and have provided easily accessible 3D printing for a multitude of projects for Lockheed Martin’s engineering team.

Lockheed Martin is a global aerospace and defense company whose mission is to connect, protect and explore. The company is focused on next generation and next generation technologies. In alliance with General Motors, Lockheed Martin is developing a new fully autonomous lunar rover that could be used for NASA’s Artemis program. This is a fitting team that pays homage to the original Apollo rover, which GM also involved in its development.

Some elements of the early design and development of the rover’s range system are carried out at Lockheed Martin’s state-of-the-art R&D facility in Palo Alto, Calif., The Advanced Technology Center (ATC), which is well-equipped with a variety of cutting machines. cutting-edge technology, including a lab full of 3D printers.

The latest addition to ATC’s 3D Printing Lab is the MakerBot METHOD X® 3D Printing Platform. With METHOD X, the team can print parts in materials such as carbon fiber and ABS, giving them the performance they need for precise testing. 3D printer.

Aaron Christian, Senior Mechanical Engineer, Lockheed Martin Space, said:

“At ATC, we have several MakerBot printers that provide quick turnaround times. I will design a part, print it and have it in hand hours later. This allows me to quickly test the 3D printed part, identify weak spots, adjust the model, send it back to print overnight, and then have the next iteration in the morning. 3D printing allows me to do a fast and iterative design, reducing the wait times for a part from a few weeks to a few hours.

The team are using METHOD X to print a number of parts for prototyping and proof of concept for the rover project, including the on-board systems housing, sensor mounts, and other custom parts. (Credit: MakerBot)

Lockheed Martin engineers are testing a multitude of applications designed for the lunar rover. Christian and his teammates use METHOD X to print a number of parts for prototyping and proof of concept for the rover project, including the on-board systems housing, sensor mounts, and other custom parts.

“The MakerBot METHOD X produces dimensionally tolerant parts right out of the box – and for all kinds of projects, you can print multiple parts that can mate together. “

Many of these parts are printed in MakerBot ABS and designed to withstand desert heat, UV exposure, humidity, and other environmental conditions. In combination with Stratasys SR-30 soluble supports, parts printed with MakerBot ABS are designed to provide a smoother surface finish compared to tear-off supports. Printing with soluble supports also allows for more organic shapes that would otherwise have been impossible to produce by traditional machining. 3D printing encourages engineers to think outside the box like never before.

“We are in the very early stages of development and the rover we have at ATC is a test bed that we have designed and developed in-house. 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 , nuclear applications and simply the need for autonomy in extreme environments.

Thanks to METHOD X’s heated chamber, parts are dimensionally accurate without the variable warping that comes with a typical desktop 3D printer (Credit: MakerBot)

3D printing allows the team to test parts in an affordable, iterative and modular way. One of the parts printed for the rover was a mount for a LIDAR, a sensor that can help determine proximity to objects around it. Widely used in autonomous vehicles, Lockheed Martin uses LIDAR in many of its autonomy projects. The stand was designed to sit on the rover, a fully modular robot system, so it was printed in ABS, allowing it to handle more extreme conditions than typical PLA. The bracket also allows engineers to continuously swap LIDAR with different sensors, such as stereo camera, directional antenna, RGB camera or rangefinder. It has a complex organic shape, which can be difficult to achieve by traditional machining. The holder also has plenty of access to ensure proper airflow to keep the room cool and temperature regulated on the robots.

The on-board electronics box is designed to fit inside the rover or other ATC robots. The case was developed to protect electronic components from anything that could potentially fall on them. Although it was printed in PLA, due to its hexagonal shape, it offers solid strength. Its design also lends itself well to the open airflow required to cool the system while protecting the device.

In addition to printing prototypes, Lockheed Martin uses 3D printing for production parts that will go into various space platforms.

“A big advantage for testing and flying 3D printed parts for space applications is that it simplifies the design. You can create more complex shapes. It reduces the number of fasteners needed and the number of parts, which is a huge saving as it is one less part that has to be tested or assembled. It 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. “

Manufacturing in space is expensive but attractive for future applications and missions. Now, bulk materials can be transported into space to be used to 3D print multiple parts and structures, rather than having each part fly individually. Combining this with a digital inventory of parts files, 3D printing in space cuts costs by eliminating the need for storage and multiple trips, making theft expensive.

“The concept of digital inventory helps advance our digital transformation: you have digital designs that you can ship, where you just print the parts and assemble them on site. ”