NASA’s Orion spacecraft will be built using more than 100 3D printed parts developed by Lockheed Martin, Stratasys, and Phoenix Analysis & Design Technologies.
The 3D printed parts are being developed using advanced materials including a new type of plastic, called Antero 800NA that can withstand chemical exposure and extreme temperatures of deep space missions. The material can withstand high mechanical loads and also doesn’t build up charge.
Dubbed Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), Orion’s unmanned test flight is currently scheduled for takeoff in December 2019. The un-crewed Orion module will fly on a three-week voyage around the moon.
The test flight will be followed by Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2), a spaceflight that will go near the moon with astronauts on board in the early 2020s. This manned spacecraft will have more than 100 3D printed production parts, which will make it the first US-led spacecraft to use parts engineered through the process. It is claimed that the 3D printing technology will scientist help make light-weight plastic parts more fast and efficiently than traditional assembly lines that require high investment in equipment.
The 3D-printed parts will be made at Lockheed Martin’s additive manufacturing lab using next-gen materials including ULTEM 9085 and Stratasys’ new Antero material. The largest 3D printed part will be the spacecraft’s docking hatch cover, which will protect it from the harsh external environment.
“There are no higher requirements out there than what goes into a vehicle that’s keeping astronauts safe in space,” said Scott Sevcik, vice president of manufacturing solutions at Stratasys.
Sevcik added that use of 3D printing parts in EM-2 is a great demonstration of just how far the technology has come. He further pointed out that 3D printing will allow for more design freedom and it can also turn out to be a more efficient production option.
It is expected that Orion’s manned mission will help push the3D printing technology and its applications even further.