The Power of 3D Printing to Accelerate NASA Plans for Manned Mars Trip

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Nasa_logo-2Just in case you haven’t heard–hanging out on Earth is just so last year, folks. Mars is where it’s at, and 3D printing is of course going to play a dramatic role in getting us there. This technology, according to experts, is definitely part of what’s getting us on the fast track.

While we’ve heard plenty about 3D printed components for both space and aeronautics, as the technology gives those sectors a huge boost in both quality and affordability factors, a new program looks to be putting the first manned mission to Mars even closer than we’d anticipated–as seems to be a common practice associated with 3D printing. Things happen a lot faster than we ever thought once you throw digital design and additive manufacturing into the mix these days, overthrowing both tradition and most of our inside-the-box ways of thinking.

833393-1940x1503For NASA, looking toward a mission to Mars in the all-too-near 2030s, as it stands today, 3D printing of specific, crucial components is probably going to be responsible for accelerating the first manned mission. The technology allows for both a megathrust engine and similar 3D printed metal projects to be manufactured as incredibly strong, quality components that are better and shave many dollar signs off the bottom line.

While conspiracy theory quarterbacks are still sitting around debating whether or not we actually really went to the moon, NASA very much expects to see astronauts walking on Mars in just a couple of decades. Numerous unmanned spacecraft have been sent successfully to the smaller planet already.

According to engineer Elizabeth Robertson who works as a propulsion engineer the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, 3D printing is of great importance in that projects can be finished with greater speed and affordability, which should indeed have positive effects on their outlined plans for a manned mission.

“The ultimate goal is to assemble and test a liquid engine, capable of producing 30,000 pounds of thrust by using components made largely with additive manufacturing [3D printing],” she says.

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Elizabeth Robertson, propulsion engineer, the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama [Photo: NASA]

New breakthroughs have a lot to do with this optimism, as the team has broken new barriers a la 3D printing, due to the creation of a 3D printed turbo pump meant for the launch engine. It has been tested with success and Robertson points out that it functions in the launch engine as one of the most complex components.

“Moving from liquid hydrogen to methane on the turbo pump allows the hardware to be used as a springboard for a variety of missions,” she says, “including landing on Mars.”

While twenty years from now may seem like a lot in layperson earthling terms, when you consider the profound importance of actually sending astronauts to a planet that is 33.9 million miles away, it’s enough to make you simply sit back in wonder.msfc

We now have a technology that could help make designs more efficient, more reliable and less expensive,” Robertson noted. “This could lower the barriers to entry for non-traditional commercial partners to compete with more traditional partners and result in better, more affordable engines.”

While we write often about concepts that would put us on Mars in person and otherwise–from a very recent NASA contest asking for contestants to create livable 3D printed habitats on the faraway planet, to fabrication plans after colonization, to just your oh, everyday basic 3D printed space drones for exploring the planet–this timeline for the manned mission is actually something that experts see as a true reality, thanks in part to the power of 3D printing.

nasa 3d print turbo pump

3D printed turbo pump [Photo: NASA]

[Source: Forbes]

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