Maxar-built geostationary communications satellites typically deliver television, radio and communications to many people by receiving radio signals from one spot on Earth and beaming those signals back to a much wider area on Earth. The transmission of those radio signals is a critical function of these satellites.

For the first time ever, Maxar flight-qualified a new additively manufactured (AM), or 3D printed, component for passive radio frequency (RF) hardware on geostationary satellites. The component, called a waveguide, is a hollow metal extrusion that carries and transfers RF signals inside a satellite. Maxar’s AM and waveguide product line team collaborated to conduct and validate the RF performance of the waveguide that was created according to the company’s standard.

This photo shows a non-flight AM waveguide test piece.

Maxar flew its first AM waveguide on SXM-8, which Maxar built for SiriusXM and which SpaceX launched in 2021. This waveguide was part of a secondary payload and it was custom built to span the distance between two other waveguides. Maxar qualified the AM aluminum alloy used for this part and the AM process in 2016. The dynamic performance for this material was validated in November 2016 through a series of tests at the Maxar factory.

AM is a good solution for building waveguides

Waveguides must typically be custom designed and manufactured as the body of the spacecraft gets assembled so that the waveguide will fit perfectly. Traditional manufacturing methods make waveguides, particularly larger ones, incredibly difficult to fabricate because they must be extruded, brazed, soldered and manually assembled. This can lead to long schedules and/or high costs for custom parts, especially late in the build process.

AM, or 3D printing, allows Maxar to create highly custom and complex designs that are normally limited or impossible to manufacture by conventional means, and with more speed. Maxar’s AM waveguide used on SXM-8 had to be custom built quickly toward the end of the manufacturing process to fit how the spacecraft was coming together.

Maxar fabricated more than 200 parts using this qualified material and process before the first flight. RF testing at Maxar’s facility demonstrated that silver-plated AM waveguides performed as well as heritage un-plated, traditionally manufactured parts.

The arrow points to the AM waveguide. It is attached to a traditionally manufactured piece of waveguide.

Maxar demonstrated how AM can deliver significant advantages when custom-making spacecraft components. AM waveguides are now flight proven, considered heritage Maxar technology, and can be leveraged in the design of future spacecraft.

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