Jan 25, 2016 | By Benedict

Since its inception in 2002, Elon Musk’s SpaceX has become a star of spacecraft design and manufacturing. In 2012, the company’s free-flying Dragon spacecraft launched itself to fame by becoming the first commercial spacecraft in history to deliver cargo to the International Space Station, a task usually reserved for governments.

Since that landmark moment, SpaceX has continued to work on the Dragon, adding new components like the SuperDraco thruster, a partially 3D printed engine that will power the Dragon’s launch escape system and enable the vehicle to land propulsively on Earth or another planet with helicopter-like precision. The 3D printed SuperDraco thruster underwent development testing back in November, and the company has now released a video of the remarkable hovering spacecraft in action (below).

The brief yet fascinating video demonstrates what the 3D printed SuperDraco thrusters are all about. The redesigned Dragon 2 capsule is seen suspended from a cable at the SpaceX test facility in McGregor, Texas. Suddenly, the eight thrusters fire and the spacecraft hovers for five seconds, causing the cable to visibly slacken. The eight SuperDraco thrusters, grouped in four equally spaced pairs, are built into the side walls of the spacecraft and can produce up to 120,000 pounds of thrust between them.

SpaceX has developed the SuperDraco thrusters to enable the Dragon 2 spacecraft to land in a controlled and precise manner, without the use of parachutes or long runways. The engines have the ability to deep throttle, giving astronauts precise control and significant power.

The SpaceX team is not only producing an innovative feature for its Dragon 2 spacecraft, it is also employing innovative techniques for its production. The SuperDraco engine chamber is manufactured using the direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) 3D printing technique. The chamber is regeneratively cooled and printed in a high-performance superalloy called Inconel.

“Through 3D printing, robust and high-performing engine parts can be created at a fraction of the cost and time of traditional manufacturing methods,” said Elon Musk, Chief Designer and CEO at Space X, at the time of the SuperDraco’s unveiling. “SpaceX is pushing the boundaries of what additive manufacturing can do in the 21st century, ultimately making our vehicles more efficient, reliable and robust than ever before.”

The Dragon program is being developed with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, with NASA reporting on the thruster tests in a recent blog post: “SpaceX envisions returning people to Earth from space on the power of thrust instead of beneath parachutes. Working with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, SpaceX is in the early phases of analysis.”

Dragon’s first manned test flight, which will see the 3D printed SuperDraco thrusters put through their paces, is expected to take place in 2-3 years.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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