Aim for the stars with space component design and production

Mastering long life-cycles, dealing with extreme conditions, light-weighting and out of this world part design.


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How can digital manufacturing support the Space industry?


Parts and components destined for space need to be built to withstand extreme and harsh conditions such as; cold, radiation, the elements, Earth re-entry etc. There is no room for error, and parts generally have to be designed with long-life cycles in mind. Not only do they have to be designed to last and meet stringent conditions, but they also need to be designed and tested rapidly to keep up with the space race.

Space products are not only limited to rockets, engines and satellites; there are also orbiting manoeuvring vehicles, synthetic aperture radars, space-based solar power cells, unmanned aerial vehicles and even products being designed to colonise Mars. Different parts are designed for various stages of space travel from Low Earth orbit and sun-synchronous orbit, to The Moon, Mars, and deep space.

When it comes to digital manufacturing injection moulding, CNC machining and 3D printing are all used and useful in the production and assembly of space industry parts.

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Injection Moulding in the Space Industry

Injection moulding offers a repeatable option when larger-scale production is required. It can be a more cost-effective option for larger quantities as the same mould is used for each part, and the parts are consistent and precise.

Why injection moulding for the space industry?
  • Precision Components
  • High Strength
  • Repeatability 
  • Versatility
  • Light-weight (plastic parts)
  • Scalability (on-demand production)
  • Rapid Prototyping
What are the applications of injection moulded parts in the space industry?
  • Turbine Blades
  • Lenses
  • Panels
  • Housings
  • Enclosures and Containers
  • Bezels
What does Protolabs offer for the space industry using injection moulding?
  • Plastic Injection Moulding
  • Liquid Silicone Rubber
  • Overmoulding and Insert Moulding
  • Assembly
  • Measurement Inspection
  • Part Marking
  • Traceability

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CNC Machining in the Space Industry

CNC machining is the go-to service for the space industry due to the precision and accuracy required in most parts. It also offers tighter tolerances than other services, and its 5-axis process provides high complexity and variation.

Why CNC machining for the space industry?
  • Precision Components
  • Good surface finish, important for fatigue
  • Complex parts, using 5-axis machining
  • Range of lightweight materials
  • High strength materials, with material test data (material data sheets)
  • Automated process and so fast manufacturing
What are the applications of CNC machined parts in the space industry?
  • Engine parts
  • Communication and computer system parts
  • Gears
  • Runners
  • Housings
  • Braking systems and parts
  • Actuators
  • Exterior Components
What does Protolabs offer for the space industry using CNC machining?
  • Reliably fast manufacturing, typically 3 days from upload to dispatch
  • Consistent in-house manufacturing - using standard machines and tools
  • CNC Milling
  • CNC Turning / CNC Lathé
  • Anodising and chromate conversion
  • Basic assembly, part marking and inspection reports

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3D Printing in the Space Industry

3D printing is increasingly used in the space industry due to its ability to produce lighter, cheaper, and more efficient parts. It also offers endless possibilities regarding geometries and materials that other services potentially can't provide.

Why 3D printing for the space industry?
  • Complex Geometries, including lattice structures
  • Weight Reduction
  • Tool-less Manufacturing
  • Sustainability
  • Customisation
  • Remote Production
What are the applications of 3D printed parts in the space industry?
  • Jigs & Fixtures
  • Mounting Brackets
  • Prototypes
  • Interior Aircraft Components
  • Brackets
  • Fixtures and Gauges
What does Protolabs offer for the space industry using 3D printing?
  • Stereolithography
  • Selective Laser Sintering
  • Direct Metal Laser Sintering (Metal 3D printing)
  • Multi Jet Fusion
  • PolyJet and 3D Printed Silicone (60-65%)
  • Post-Process Machining
  • Mechanical Testing
  • Heat Treatments
  • Vapour Smoothing
  • Measurement Reports (3D Scan) & First Article Inspections
  • Insert fitting/ tapping
  • Assembly
  • And many more post processing services

What Materials Work Best for the Space Industry?


injection moulded part by Protolabs for Lockheed Martin drone

PPSU - Radel
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PPSU (Polypenylsulfone or Radel R-5500) is a popular resin in the space industry due to it superior toughness and hyrdrolytic stability (resistance to temperature and humidity) in comparison to other high-temperature engineering grade resins.

Other key considerations include;

  • Flame retardancy
  • Resistance to out gassing in a vacuum
  • High and low temperature performance (maintaining strength and resistance to cracking).
  • Strength
  • Thermal Stability


Protolabs offers Radel 5500

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One of the few resins approved for use in the commercial aerospace sector. It's high strength, stiffness, dimensional stability, thermal and chemical resistance make it sought after for parts such as;

  • Connectors
  • Hinges
  • Oxygen panels and ventilation systems
  • Electrical insulators
  • Structural Components
  • Light-weighting of metal components
  • Most commonly used for high voltage electrical insulation applications


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Peek's high thermal mechanical strengths, strong resistant properties such as creep resistance, wear resistance, hydrolysis resistance (even against super heated steam) and toughness mean that it is a good candidate for the aerospace industry. Some of the materials' key applications include gears, valve seals, friction bearings and pump housings. PEEK also often finds use in critical engine parts due to it's ability to withstand high temperatures.

In slightly less demanding applications - Acetal/POM make for an excellent engineering grade plastic and are more economical.


PEEK (Polyetheretherketone. Protolabs offers TECAPEEK and Victrex)

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Aluminium is a key material in the space industry due to it's light-weighting properties. It is often used as building material for space shuttles and other space equipment, as well as engines
Aluminium 2024 is the most widely used alloy in the aerospace industry, however, most are aluminium alloys have their uses, in particular 7075.

  • 2024 - Has a high yield strength, excellent fatigue resistance and good machinability. Often used in aircraft structural applications.
  • 7075 - has a good balance of properties required for aerospace applications, particularly where high static loads occur, as well as low temperatures (cryogenic). Applications include fittings, gears, shafts and valves. It is often used in military applications.


Protolabs offers 2024508360827075 T651 and 7075 T7351

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Titanium's properties make it a popular choice for the aerospace industry, its high strength-to-weight ration, resistance to corrosion and high temperature performance. Whilst aluminium beats titanium in weight, titanium's heat resistance and corrosion resistance often make it a first choice.

Titanium also has outstanding mechanical is commonly used in engines and air frames, amongst other things.


Protolabs offers Titanium Ti6Al4V

High Temperature Super Alloys
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Commonly used in the hottest sections of a jet engine such as the turbine and compressor stages. This includes alloys such as Nickel, cobalt and Iron.

They are light-weight, corrosion resistant and have high heat resistance.


Protolabs offers Cobalt Chrome and Inconel (a nickel alloy) via 3D Printing Direct Metal Laser Sintering.

Panel Discussion

The Next Frontier: Space and Digital Manufacturing


Why Protolabs for Components and Equipment in the Space Industry?

Automated CNC Machining

Leverage high-speed 3-axis and 5-axis milling processes as well as turning with live tooling for increasingly complex metal and plastic components.

Aircraft Interiors

Benefit from rapid production and delivery of replacement parts for aircraft interiors from one offs to low volume production.

Tools and Fixtures

Get durable, production-grade tools, fixtures, and other aids within days so development and workflow remain forward moving.

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Rapid Prototyping

R&D is a big thing for the space industry. Our design for manufacturability service allows you to upload CAD models and receive analysis on whether the part is manufacturable, free of charge and as many times as you like. We also offer a consultative design service if you need support in making your product manufacturable. Our digital manufacturing services then support the iteration and functional testing processes.

Quality Certifications and Traceability

Take advantage of our ISO9001-certified manufacturing processes for high-requirement parts. Also our JOSCAR accreditation for the defence aerospace sector.


Choose from machined metals like aluminium, titanium, and stainless steel 17-4 PH along with 3D-printed metals like Cobalt Chrome and Inconel. We also offer many key plastic resins such as; PPSU, PEEK and Ultem.

How Design for Manufacturability can support your Product Life Cycle


Parts designed for space often require complex geometries to withstand the extreme conditions they face. When developing these parts, testing is vital as it can give you the advantage needed to get a step ahead of the competition in the space race. Protolabs' design for manufacturability (DFM) service can provide you with a quote within hours. This means design and iteration has never been quicker or easier. To support you even further, if your part comes back as not manufacturable, our expert team of Application Engineers are on-hand to discuss and help you in finalising a part that Protolabs can produce. Once you design has been quoted, it's simply a case of ordering your functional prototypes using our rapid prototyping services, which can ship parts in as little as 1 day.

Generative Design

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already a massive part of our world. It is transforming how the healthcare industry develops treatments for diseases, playing a significant role in finance through stock market trading and investments and using data to optimise our supply chains and production processes. The manufacturing industry does not buck the trend, with AI influencing how things are made for our world and the space outside of it. Generative Design is a manufacturing process that uses AI software programs to optimise the design and production of parts. A perfect example of a symbiotic relationship between humans and AI, manufacturers input requirements for a model, such as manufacturing processes, loads and constraints, and then the software offers designs that fit the specifications. The AI system computes data at a rate not possible for humans. It opens up design possibilities that would never have been possible, allowing manufacturers to access innovative design strategies to suit the available cutting-edge production processes. Generative Design is a significant advantage for those in the space industry as it helps produce innovative parts faster than ever, supporting the fail-fast learn-fast strategy many companies choose to adopt.

Similarly, the fact that the AI program isn't limited to the traditional approach of the human mind is excellent for product differentiation. Generative Design allows manufacturers to break the mould and get ahead of the competition by creating innovative parts that can be cheaper, made of different materials for better performance, and produced by manufacturing methods previously never considered. The sheer randomness of the technique can often make it difficult to replicate by competitors, which is a win for those engaged in the modern space race!

Your complete guide to Space and Digital Manufacturing


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Learn more about how digital manufacturing can support the Space industry in this downloadable guide.

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