Published on July 18th, 2013 | by Jo Borrás7
NASA 3D Prints Fancy New Rocket Engine Parts
By cutting production time and costs while improving precision fit and finish of 1-off and ultra-low-volume production items, 3D printing is rapidly changing the way manufacturers are looking at design and production problems. We briefly covered Ford’s advanced sheet metal “printing” last week, in part 2.1 of my “Further With Ford 2013” coverage… but even Ford 3D printing a steel car part and a small arsenal of 3D printed firearms didn’t prepare me for this: NASA has 3D printed parts, assembled them into a rocket engine, and then fired the engine.
NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne fired the rocket engine injector at NASA’s Glenn Research Center outside of Cleveland, Ohio that was made using a 3D printer. The project, which was a collaboration between NASA and a number of private-sector companies, aims to speed up the manufacture of low-volume rocket components and test the viability of printing parts in space.
For those of you paying attention, the ability to 3D print rocket parts in space could help usher in a new era of space travel, since large parts wouldn’t have to be launched from Earth to orbit at a tremendous cost. Those parts could be printed in a high orbit or, if I’m allowed to sound this crazy this early in the morning (I write these early in the morning), on the moon or even on Mars. Rocket engines are just part of the payoff, however, since spare parts for respirators or damaged spacesuits could be 3D printed on-site as well, again cutting back on the amount of money and energy (and fuel) required to keep colonies/space stations running.
“NASA recognizes that on Earth and potentially in space, additive manufacturing can be game-changing for new mission opportunities, significantly reducing production time and cost by ‘printing’ tools, engine parts or even entire spacecraft,” says Michael Gazarik, NASA’s associate administrator for space technology. “3-D manufacturing offers opportunities to optimize the fit, form and delivery systems of materials that will enable our space missions while directly benefiting American businesses here on Earth.”
So, what he have here is state-of-the-art NASA technology that will mean tremendous fuel-savings, more efficient manufacturing, and a Star Trek-style space utopia? Sounds good to me.