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3D Printing Goes to Space: NASA’s Orion Capsule

The Orion capsule will feature more than 100 3D printed parts

NASA’s jump into deep-space is not only a significant step in the space race, but it also has implications for other industries. The 3D printing industry is one that will be watching the events of the coming weeks and months with special interest. The Orion capsule, which NASA is launching in 2019, will feature more than 100 3D printed parts.


Moon and Beyond

NASA’s Orion capsule is set to depart in 2019 when it will first take off for the moon. However, it is not the capsule’s final destination, with NASA hoping to push its capsule into deep space – areas where no capsule has gone before. It is a completely uncrewed mission, given the length of time and the potential risks involved. The flight is earmarked as Exploration Mission-1, or EM-1, by NASA.

Satellite Antenna Bracket, Customer: Thales Alenia

The plan is to have a successful launch and exploration for EM-1, which could be a precursor to another launch in the future. EM-2 is the next mission on NASA’s docket, with the agency hoping they can involve astronauts. It would be the first time American astronauts travel to near the moon since the 1970s. The idea is to start small, with a mission to the moon, before preparing for future deep-space missions that feature astronauts.


3D Printing and Spacecraft

In an incredible feat for the 3D printing industry, the Orion will feature more than 100 separate 3D printed parts. Some of the components are critical to the capsule’s functionality, as they sit on the docking hatch. These parts are described by various companies as “next generation” 3D printouts. They mark a significant step in the relationship between the aerospace and 3D printing industries.

Companies such as Stratasys, Lockheed Martin, and PADT are involved in the construction, development, and deployment of these parts. Stratasys is a 3D printing company known for its close ties with the aerospace industry. Engineering company PADT and the defense contractor Lockheed Martin also have important roles to play.

It is not only about creating parts that are effective on the Orion but testing parts for future deployment on spacecraft that would go on other missions. The parts are designed to replace manufactured items that would be heavier, cost more and take more time to produce. If the implementation is successful, it could mean a significant reduction in the cost of spacecraft in the future.


More than Prototypes

In the past, 3D printing was used by the aerospace industry for prototyping parts they wanted to deploy. It was a quick way to see whether a part could work before it was designated for manufacturing. However, the companies involved in this venture went a step further. They decided to use 3D printing machines to create the production parts that were needed for the capsule.

The challenge for a company like Stratasys is to produce parts that would match the demands set by NASA. Since these parts are going on a capsule that will be traveling through space, the integrity and performance must be even better than a typical 3D printed part that would go on aircraft.


The Future of 3D Printing

The NASA Orion mission indicates the future of 3D printing is very bright. When NASA trusts companies to produce 3D printed parts to go on its spacecraft, it is a notice that 3D printing is a very real way of reducing manufacturing costs and producing better quality products.

3D printing is set to have a huge impact on the space race, where companies such as SpaceX want to get people on Mars in the coming decades. When 3D printed parts become mainstream within the aerospace industry, the cost and time required to manufacture and set up spacecraft are drastically reduced.

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