July 9, 2015 | By Simon

Although we’ve been seeing major developments towards the future of space travel in the past decade, it is within the last year alone that we’ve been seeing some of the most critical developments to date - ranging from Elon Musk’s rocket developments with SpaceX to Made in Space’s developments for creating a 3D printer for space.    

Within the last three months, we’ve also seen how SpaceX has incorporated additive manufacturing methods into the development of the rocket engines themselves; in May, the commercial space company tested an abort system that consisted of eight 3D printed rocket thrusters which were built into the lower part of the escape system’s body - which is designed to allow human cargo to return safely to earth in the case of an emergency.    

The thrusters, which are also known as SuperDraco Rocket Engines, were produced using an EOS metal 3D printer and made from Inconel superalloy.  The decision to use additive manufacturing to produce the thrusters dramatically reduce both manufacturing costs and time while also providing superior strength, ductility, fracture resistance and a lower variability in materials properties.    

More recently, Rocket Lab, a New Zealand company who is responsible for creating the world’s first 3D printed rocket has announced that they’ve been chosen to build what is likely to be the world’s first private satellite launch pad to use for launching 3D printed rockets.

The proposed facility location is expected to be built on Kaitorete Spit near Christchurch, which is already a popular location for space launches and has even been used by NASA for launching their own crafts, too.  Rocket Lab is hoping that the permanent base area will enable them to launch satellites for much cheaper than the current going rate.         

In a recent New Scientist interview with Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck, he stated that if you want to launch a satellite into space, "you pretty much have to write a check for a billion dollars."  Additionally, the time to get approved for a launch can take up to a year.  In contrast, Beck has plans for Rocket Lab to run at least 100 trips per year and use the economies of scale to bring the cost per launch down to just $5 million per launch.  

If everything goes as planned by Beck and the rest of his team at Rocket Lab, the launch site could be up and running by the end of the year.  Among other spacecrafts that are expected to be launched soon after include the company’s own Electron - a launch vehicle that’s powered by the company’s Rutherford Engine, which uses 3D printed components within its design.  

While we still have quite a few months left in the year, it’s safe to say that 2015 is shaping up to be not only one of the most productive years for additive manufacturing, but also in the history of space exploration!



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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