May 6, 2015 | By Simon

Fresh from revealing his new revolutionary home battery system, Elon Musk has shown no signs of slowing down when it comes to innovation - whether its for creating futuristic devices for the home or engineering the future of space travel.  

More recently, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX has been focusing on executing test flights of Crew Dragon, a spacecraft designed to carry astronauts as the company prepares to launch human-based space exploration missions.  

The first of these tests for ensuring the safety of astronauts, the Pad Abort Test, took place this morning (Wednesday, May 6th) at the same launch pad that the community has used for previous missions - the SpaceX Space Launch Complex 40 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.  

The launch abort system for the new commercial crew capsule, which was designed to carry humans to the International Space Station by 2017, went exactly as planned according to SpaceX.

Among other interesting facts about the new abort system is that it consists of eight 3D printed rocket thrusters that are built into the lower part of the capsule’s body.  In the case that there is a launch emergency, the launch escape system allows the human cargo to quickly separate itself from the rest of a failing rocket and safely return to earth.

The thrusters, known as SuperDraco Rocket Engines, are 3D printed using an EOS metal 3D Printer and are made from Inconel superalloy.  Using additive manufacturing to create the rocket engines not only dramatically reduces lead-time and costs compared to traditionally-made engines, but it also allows for “superior strength, ductility, fracture resistance and a lower variability in materials properties.

"It’s a very complex engine, and it was very difficult to form all the cooling channels, the injector head, and the throttling mechanism,” said Elon Musk.   

Being able to print very high strength advanced alloys ... was crucial to being able to create the SuperDraco engine as it is."

Among other objectives that the SpaceX team was hoping to learn from this test launch include a demonstration of proper sequencing of the pad abort timeline, a demonstration of the abilities of all eight SuperDraco 3D printed engines to respond in real time to incoming data to ensure that the Crew Dragon stays on the appropriate course, obtain accurate trajectory data for both maximum altitude as well as distance downrange and finally, external and internal environmental data including impact measurements.      

While the system is designed for humans, the innovative space exploration firm opted instead to use a dummy for their initial test to collect data on the gravitational load forces  - which experienced nearly 5 G’s when it took off this morning and successfully passed the test.   

“(Because of the outcome of this test), SpaceX will (now) conduct an in-flight abort test,” said the company.

“With the in-flight abort, we will test the same launch abort system, however this time in mid-flight during an actual launch. Both the pad abort and in-flight abort will be challenging tests, but the data gathered here will be key to helping develop one of the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown.”


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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