Research NASA 3D Printed Rocket

Published on July 18th, 2013 | by Jo Borrás


NASA 3D Prints Fancy New Rocket Engine Parts

July 18th, 2013 by  

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 3D Printed Rocket

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.

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About the Author

I've been involved in motorsports and tuning since 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the Important Media network. You can find me on Twitter, Skype (jo.borras) or Google+.

  • Briggs Parts

    If we use this Briggs Parts we would be able to save our time and money also.

  • Jacob Wadsworth

    I really think that this way, we can save time and effort for creating things. But my question will be, are the output materials really that durable compared to the original ones?

  • Ronald Brakels

    Being able to print out a complex part can save a lot of money on transportation. It would be very useful to have a 3D printer that can print out metal parts in a lot of isolated parts of Australia. No more waiting months for parts.

  • Wayne Williamson

    Not really a Cleantech thing, but then again it probably will save a lot of energy and time and material for building pretty much anything.. I also think this is really cool…..

    • Ronald Brakels

      I imagine it would be a lot cheaper for NASA to send a robot with a 3D printer, a solar panel, and a means of extracting local resources to build a moon or mars base than to send a team of construction workers. It would probably be the only really safe way, as accidents do happen and radiation is hard on meatbags.

      • mself61

        just send a 3d printer to the moon, pre-programmed and loaded to print the robot and solar panel !

    • Ronald Brakels

      I imagine it would be a lot cheaper for NASA to a base on the moon or mars by sending a robot with a solar panel, a 3D printer, and a means of extracting local resources than to send a construction team. It would probably be the only really safe way too, as accidents do happen and radiation on the surface of the moon and mars is hard on meatbags.

      • Ronald Brakels

        Now that I think about it, lunar regolith is rotten with bits of glass. That could be potentially be used as a readily available 3D printing material. (Not sure what sort of structual properties it would have.)

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