If you’re kinda nerdy, like me, you’ll have noticed that 3-D printing is the bees-knees of late. Recently, NASA decided to join the frenzy. This does appear to be a stretch of the imagination. How can an agency that fires rockets reaching temperatures of 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit expect 3-D printed parts to step up to the plate? It is appealing though as new innovations in the industry have drastically reduced the cost of 3-D printing. Other innovations have improved the quality of 3-D prints, including higher fidelity in the additive manufacturing machines.
If you know anything about space exploration you know it doesn’t come cheap, or quickly for that matter. Normal manufacturing of rocket parts requires months to fabricate them from multiple parts and numerous welds. With 3-D printing, the same part can be made as one continuous piece with half the cost and a fraction of the manufacturing time.
NASA is pushing the technology to its limits, testing it to build part of the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket. The injectors were created from a 3-D printer using selective laser melting at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AB.
This isn’t the only part that is being manufactured with 3-D printing technology for NASA missions. A rocket engine injector employing liquid oxygen and gaseous hydrogen was tested at Glenn Research Center in Cleveland with great success. Also, in collaboration with Made in Space, NASA is working on the technology needed to install a 3-D printer on the International Space Station (ISS). This printer would create parts in space without having to deliver them from Earth. They are also considering printing food in space… yummy. So look out world (and space), 3-D printing is here to stay!