The next destination for the aerospace industry
Although large, cumbersome projects have traditionally dominated the aerospace industry, the NewSpace movement has forever changed the face of space travel, research, and commercialization. With the emergence of newer, leaner, more commercially-oriented ventures within the industry, many aspects of the processes and materials used in the aerospace industry are rapidly evolving to include “riskier” technologies.
These include 3D printing, on-orbit manufacturing and the use of small, inexpensive components that can be combined to make a functional – and profitable – spacecraft. Working in tandem, these new manufacturing techniques are facilitating “NewSpace,” a movement toward an increasingly leaner, more profit-driven business model for aerospace manufacturers.
Lighter and leaner: Interchangeable parts and 3D printing
In the past, space missions have required custom-built parts, which has limited the ability of smaller companies to break into the aerospace market. The trend toward interchangeable parts represents a massive shift in the industry and should allow smaller companies to break into aerospace manufacturing, making the market more competitive.
The rising popularity of 3D printing, a relatively new, untested technology, is also causing a massive shift in the aerospace industry and is helping drive the NewSpace movement. While smaller, interchangeable parts have made the development of smaller spacecraft possible, 3D printing is improving the process of building larger vessels by enabling companies to manufacture several smaller components as one piece, reducing their weight and bulk. Several aerospace giants, such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Airbus utilize parts manufactured this way, and as the technology continues to develop and mature, 3D printing promises to become even more vital to the aerospace industry.
Exciting developments in aerospace
Other exciting developments that have arisen from the NewSpace movement include SpaceX and Blue Origin reusing their first-stage boosters, on-orbit satellite servicing, and NGSO satellite constellations. These developments represent a leaner, more cost-effective approach to aerospace that will change the face of the industry.
While there will always be big-budget space programs with huge “wow” factors” (such as the James Webb Space Telescope with its whopping $9 billion-plus budget), the aerospace sector will continue to look more and more like other commercial industries. Like automotive, medical, and consumer product markets, aerospace will increasingly be driven by fast innovation, sexy products, and bold engineering companies wanting to make a difference in the world.
The future of the aerospace industry
Heading toward 2020, the theme of aerospace is cost- and fuel-efficiency through lightweight, inexpensive materials. The future of aerospace will be centered less on giant corporations and more on smaller companies that are willing to take risks and think outside of the box. This shift will open up opportunities for companies such as Syncroness to leverage their experience across multiple industries to find cheaper, more efficient solutions to the challenges faced by the aerospace industry.
Chip Bollendonk is a mechanical engineer with a passion for aerospace and product design. His professional interests include incorporating DFx principles throughout the design process, user-centered design, and rapid prototyping technologies.