Space hardware builders say they fully expect 3D printing to revolutionize manufacturing, but cautioned that the technology is sometimes promoted without a full understanding of its pros and cons.
It’s not clear whether the additive manufacturing supply chain will expand rapidly enough to meet growing demand for 3D-printed parts for spacecraft or launch vehicles.
The aerospace industry is making huge investments in additive manufacturing but producing parts that can pass quality tests in government programs, for instance, remains a challenge.
Years of Pentagon and NASA investments in nontraditional manufacturing technology appear to be paying off as government contractors step up the use of 3D printed components in space systems.
Made In Space, the Silicon Valley startup focused on additive manufacturing in orbit, plans to boost the power available to small satellites with Archinaut, the company’s in-space manufacturing and assembling technology.
“Three to four years ago, none of my peers believed we would see additive manufacturing of safety-critical parts,” the FAA’s chief scientific and technical adviser for fatigue and damage tolerance said Oct. 19 at the Additive Aerospace conference in Los Angeles.
ASRC of Beltsville, Md., has test fired a subscale propellant injector built via additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, paving the way for a version that will be able to support whichever engine United Launch Alliance chooses to replace the Russian-built RD-180 on the Atlas 5 rocket.
Lockheed Martin Space Systems could eventually replace satellite propellant tanks now built by longtime partner Orbital ATK with 3-D-printed tanks Lockheed would build in-house.
Open source is software or hardware universally accessible and intended to be freely used, shared and improved. The impact on space exploration is in two main places: the use of open source technology and the development of open source systems.