A technology that is slated to become a staple to maximise the chances of sending humans to Mars will be at play in NASA’s deep-space capsule Orion. According to reports, more than 100 parts of the Orion will be constructed by 3D printers.
These parts have been created using new materials which are capable of withstanding extreme temperature fluctuations and chemical exposure which is common in deep space missions. U.S. defence contractor Lockheed Martin, 3D printing specialist Stratasys, and engineering firm PADT worked together to make this possible.
Scott Sevcik who serves as the Vice President Manufacturing Solutions at Stratasys informed Reuters that “In space, for instance, materials will build up a charge. If that was to shock the electronics on a spacecraft, there could be significant damage.”
3D printing has been used to create prototypes across industries for years now. However, now this form of manufacturing is being focussed on for the large-scale production of functional parts.
One of the salient factors why this technology is being pursued is the fact, by this method lighter parts made of plastics can be created more quickly, and the cost is also cheaper than the traditional techniques that need heavy machinery and significant investments to get production going.
“But even more significant is that we have more freedom with the design… parts can look more organic, more skeletal,” Sevcik noted.
Stratasys’s partner Lockheed Martin said that this technology would not only benefit space exploration but other facets of its business as well. Brian Kaplun, additive manufacturing manager at Lockheed Martin Space, was quoted saying that “We look to apply for benefits across our programs – missile defence, satellites, planetary probes, especially as we create more and more common products.”
The Orion is part of the NASA’s follow-up program for the now-retired space shuttles which would ideally make it possible for astronauts to travel behind the International Space Station which is currently flying 420 km above us.