5 ways TRUMPF lasers are used in space

TRUMPF Photonic Components said it is developing a Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Laser (VCSEL) for use in gyroscopes that measure the position of LEO satellites. #pressrelease

April 7, 2023

4 Min Read

FARMINGTON, Conn. – The space industry is booming. Investors spent more than 10 billion dollars – a tenfold increase in the last ten years – on space technology in 2021 and more than 2,000 new satellites were launched in 2022. In honor of these achievements and National Space Day on May 5, 2023, TRUMPF shares five facts about how aerospace manufacturers use the high-tech company's lasers to advance the space industry.

Here are five ways TRUMPF lasers are helping to advance space technology.

1) Laser 3D printing produces high-quality aerospace components. Disasters can loom if rocket parts do not meet the highest quality standards. Fortunately, with its manufacturing and laser technology expertise, TRUMPF supports space companies as an equipment supplier. Specifically, its laser 3D printers are a key technology used to produce satellite and space components cost-effectively. TRUMPF's productive laser metal fusion (LMF) 3D printing systems easily meet the highest industrial 3D printing standards. With years of experience meeting the stringent quality requirements of medical technology manufacturers, such as pacemakers, and car battery manufacturers, TRUMPF draws on this know-how to perfect the laser processing of aerospace parts that must be equally leak-proof and crash-proof.

2) Lasers create safer rockets and flawless launches. Aerospace companies rely on lasers from TRUMPF to weld rocket tank components made of special metal alloys with the level of precision needed to ensure rockets do what they are supposed to, even under the extreme conditions of launch or flight through the atmosphere. The welding work on a rocket's fuel tank must be flawless so tanks do not lose even the smallest drop of fuel. A tiny leak or a hairline crack could mean the difference between a successful launch or a failure. TRUMPF lasers weld parts so precisely they can withstand conditions as extreme as a rocket launch.

3) Laser 3D printing makes it possible to produce satellites and thrusters cost-effectively. A boom in private production of satellites, landing shuttles, and launch vehicles has increased competition for lucrative contracts among suppliers. Production costs must be reduced for the commercialized space travel to succeed. This is where TRUMPF's experience in efficient manufacturing processes and 3D printers come into play. Satellites need thrusters to align and maintain the right position in space, landing shuttles use thrusters to touch down gently on the moon, and rockets use thrusters to adjust their flight direction. For cost-effective and material-saving thruster production, companies are turning to laser 3D printing. For example, one US company manufactures thrust nozzles with TRUMPF 3D printers in a particularly weight-saving way. Laser 3D printing also makes other advantages possible, such as the production of highly complex parts and the processing of exotic alloys, both for small series and one-off productions.

4) Lasers ensure more sustainable usage of rare materials. Producing aerospace parts can require expensive and rare earth material, such as niobium-based alloys. These special, extremely heat-resistant alloys cost up to 1,600 dollars per kilogram. In the past, when companies produced components from a blank by drilling, milling, or turning, a large part of the raw material ended up as waste. Out of five kilograms of the special niobium alloy, sometimes only 500 grams might make it into space. In contrast, companies producing a part with a 3D laser printer only requires the material that is actually needed for it to fly into space.

5) Lasers will help align a world-changing network of "low-earth orbit" (LEO) satellites. A major driver of commercial spaceflight, LEO satellites are expected to improve global data communication and make internet connections possible even in remote regions. But for it to happen, these LEO satellites must be aligned with the highest precision. TRUMPF Photonic Components is developing the "mini laser," a powerful laser diode or Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Laser (VCSEL) for use in space-qualified gyroscopes, or sensors that measure the position of satellites. Success depends on cost-effective mass production and operation. Manufacturing approaches such as laser 3D printing of satellite and rocket parts and the ability to reuse rocket components are making rockets lighter, more efficient, and cheaper. This is particularly important when setting a network of hundreds to thousands of small LEO satellites.


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