July 31, 2015 | By Alec

While you might not think it when looking at your very own desktop FDM 3D printer, but 3D printing is hard at work giving the aerospace industry a huge boost. While various space agencies have already used high quality metal prints for a variety of applications, NASA is now taking things to the next level with an eye on missions into deep space and to Mars. To do so, NASA has just signed a Space Act Agreement with Auburn University to explore to possibilities of 3D printing in space.

With this agreement Auburn University, located in Auburn, Alabama, will be giving a huge boost to its own research initiatives. According to Dr. John Mason, Auburn’s vice president for research and economic development, who signed the Space Act Agreement along with NASA’s Patrick Scheuermann, this agreement is aiming to greatly advance the university’s own STEM disciplines through a series of projects that will also be giving a huge boost to NASA’s 3D printing capacities. The final goal? Mars. NASA is aiming to send a mission to an asteroid by 2025, and a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s, and 3D printing is expected to play a huge rule in those projects.

The partnership was signed on Thursday in Auburn University’s forum on 3D printing – just days after the 46th anniversary of the moon landing. As Patrick Scheuermann, Director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, explained, NASA is expanding its 3D printing capacities with an eye on direct 3D printing in space. ‘Additive manufacturing is important in space for two reasons, one is to reduce the cost affordability and sustainability of our launch vehicles, but it also helps us to live, work and sustain ourselves in space, because when we leave low Earth orbit going to Mars, there are no shops along the way to help us so we will have to manufacture parts like we do now on the International Space Station 3D printers to help us further our way into space,’ he said at the signing.

WRBL news report of the signing.

Obviously, this sustainable spacecraft component manufacturing takes place with just about the most advanced 3D printers possible, as parts (especially rocket parts) will have to be able to withstand temperatures as high as 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. And 3D printing is the most cost-effective way to approach this complicated issue. ‘We can make rockets like our predecessors did…but we can make them affordable and sustainable for decades to come,’ Scheuermann added.

Greg Morris, Aviation General Manager of Additive Technologies at GE, was also present as the keynote speaker at the forum. He further added that 3D printing offers new manufacturing options as well that would otherwise be nearly impossible to complete. ‘Because it's additive and not subtractive  we can create twists and turns, lattice work we can't do any other way by machining. The only way to make these components is by using additive manufacturing,’ Morris told the crowd.

For the university’s part, officials explained that the deal will greatly improve Auburn University’s position in the field of manufacturing sciences. ‘We create new knowledge, and we are expected to disseminate knowledge, dr. John Mason said. ‘Our students are going to get hands-on experience while they’re at Auburn University.’ It is expected that students will not only have far more research opportunities, but also more internship options in the aerospace industry. ‘What this does is give students hands on experience not only with NASA, but with other aerospace companies, so they become familiar with additive technologies, which is the next generation of engineering,’ Scheuermann, added.

While no concrete plans 3D printed aerospace applications have yet surfaced from Alabama, it is expected that much more will follow in the near future. 


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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