The future of human exploration in outer space depends on our ability to successfully manufacture necessary items in zero gravity conditions, which is why scientists and engineers have been calling on the power of 3D printing to help us travel the stars more safely and efficiently.
NASA has spent years developing its Orion deep-space crew module, which was built to take humans further into deep space than ever before. 3D printing has played a major part in manufacturing the spacecraft, which will ultimately end up taking astronauts to Mars.
Now, 3D printing leader Stratasys and engineering product and services company Phoenix Analysis & Design Technologies, Inc. (PADT) have announced that they are working with global security and aerospace company Lockheed Martin to develop next-generation, final 3D printed parts for the Orion spacecraft.
Brian Kaplun, Manager of Additive Manufacturing at Lockheed Martin Space, said, “Working with PADT, Stratasys, and NASA has enabled us to achieve highly consistent builds that move beyond the realm of prototyping and into production. We’re not just creating parts, we’re reshaping our production strategy to make spacecraft more affordable and faster to produce.”
This collaboration will leverage advanced materials from Stratasys, including ULTEM 9085 and a new variant of its high-performance, PEKK-based thermoplastic Antero 800NA, which provides electro-static dissipative (ESD) functionality for excellent chemical, mechanical, and thermal properties. The material is suited for NASA’s heat and chemical resistance requirements, and can also withstand high mechanical loads.
This collaboration between Lockheed Martin, PADT, and Stratasys will result in consistency and repeatability, in mass scale, across the whole 3D printing parts production process. Stratasys’ 3D printers and advanced materials offer the high levels of durability, strength, and thermal properties that are necessary to send astronauts on missions into deep space, and Lockheed Martin is one of the company’s first customers to use its new Antero – the company 3D printed a critical part situated just outside of Orion’s docking hatch door with the thermoplastic material.
“The demands of space travel require extremely high performance materials and the most rigorous manufacturing processes in the industry,” explained Scott Sevcik, Vice President of Manufacturing at Stratasys. “Part integrity and repeatability are essential and must pass NASA’s demanding testing and validation process. Based on decades of experience delivering strong and lightweight additive manufacturing solutions for leaders across the aerospace industry, Stratasys technology is ideally suited to match the high-reliability manufacturing processes required for production parts in space exploration.”
The complex part is made up of six individual 3D printed components that lock together in order to form a ring on the exterior of the spacecraft. The manned Orion module will also feature 100 other 3D printed production parts.
The production-grade thermoplastic parts for NASA’s Orion spacecraft are being 3D printed at Lockheed Martin’s Additive Manufacturing Lab, in conjunction with PADT. Advanced Stratasys materials, like ULTEM 9085 and the new Antero variant with ESD functionality, will help NASA meet important performance requirements for the 3D printed parts in deep space.
The 3D printed hatch door part is on display this week at Lockheed Martin’s booth #603 at the 34th Space Symposium, held in Colorado Springs through the 19th. PADT has joined Stratasys at booth #537 at the event this week. Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), which is Orion’s next test flight, will be the very first integration mission with the Space Launch System, the most powerful rocket in the world. An unmanned Orion spacecraft will fly thousands of miles past the moon in a mission that will last approximately three weeks. The next flight, EM-2, will also be flying near the moon, but will be the first flight to carry humans aboard since 1972. This will allow NASA to continue getting ready for even more complex missions to deep space.
Rey Chu, Principal and Co-Owner at PADT, said, “It’s exciting to be a part of the Orion mission and Lockheed Martin’s efforts to transition additive manufacturing from prototyping to production. Additive manufacturing technology and materials have come a long way to become a full-fledged end-use manufacturing option.”
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