ANU establishes advanced manufacturing capability for the Australian space sector

Advanced manufacturing is critical to growing the Australian space industry. It means we can create our own high-performance carbon composites for better rocket components and telescopes. ANU researcher Prof Paul Compston of the ARC Centre for Automated Manufacture of Advanced Composites has developed this capability for ANU with partners in Europe. Next week they will showcase their capabilities and discuss where the industry is going next in an international online symposium.

ANU Institute for Space Director, Anna Moore talked to Prof Compston about his work and what a great addition it is to Australia’s advanced manufacturing capability.


Tell us about your work and how you brought this high level of advanced manufacturing to ANU...

We collaborate with the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and have built a strong partnership over many years. Our work focusses on using an automated (robotic) advanced manufacturing process and laser systems to rapidly heat and fuse polymer-based composites in a clean, efficient and extremely quick process to create high-performance carbon composites.

The laser process we have been working with at ANU is used by TUM for applied research projects in the high-tech European Space and Aerospace Engineering sectors. In this process, the quality of the material you create is dictated by the thermal history of the process, or how much you can control temperature variations at critical points. These temperature gradients can be about 1000oC/s. Our research is focussed on controlling, measuring and predicting the thermal history. ANU research has already improved processes in the European advanced manufacturing sector.

In late-2020, we will add the first system in Australia capable of processing high-performance aerospace and space sector composites. It’s a robotic, AFPT laser tape placement manufacturing cell and it will be located at the ANU Mt Stromlo campus. It will give Australia the ability to automate processing and support research to add to the value chain for carbon composites. This includes enhancing thermal and electrical conductivity of composites and exploring potential for electromagnetic shielding.


So this is a first in Australia?

Yes. It’s very exciting. The laser-based advanced manufacturing cell at Mt Stromlo will produce demonstrator-scale parts and structures. It has the latest version of the technology that produced a rocket booster casing for Arianne Group and modules for an ESA Sounding Rocket. It also provides ANU with the identical advanced manufacturing platform as key strategic European research partners such as TUM and DLR, and will enable ANU to expand on current collaborations.

ANU can use it for fundamental research capability for the space sector and for applied research and development for advanced composite structures. When you manufacture components, your work is rated through Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs). This cell will help us achieve products with higher than usual TRLs for University-based capability. This in turn supports sovereign advanced manufacturing capability for Australia and can be used to develop agile ground-based structures (e.g. tracking dishes or telescopes), or lightweight structures for launch vehicles.


And you are also hosting a unique international workshop next week…

Yes. We planned this joint ANU–TUM Symposium on Future Composites Manufacturing, with the aim of extensive industry engagement before COVID. We are happy to be able to continue it virtually on 9 and 10 September because it builds on an established and highly successful collaboration between ANU and Professor Klaus Drechsler’s research group at TUM. The technical focus of the symposium is on additive manufacturing of the class of high-performance carbon composites typically used in space and aerospace sector applications. Industry speakers, including Airbus, DLR and BMW, will provide insight into sector needs and development directions, complimented by presentations from the researchers at ANU and TUM to showcase current research capability for industry-led projects. We hope to host it next year here in Australia.


You can still join this year’s event here.




Kathleen Sweetapple
Contact phone:02 6125 0065