Many people have been discouraged by the recent revelation that NASA would be putting a stop to its rocket program, however, next generation of space launchers is underway which is generating much excitement. A whole host of new technologies are being generated for launching rockets. And 3D printing technology is at the heart of these innovations.
The next heavy lift rocket is being created in part on a device that uses selective laser melting or SLM. This method creates the intricate metal parts required to make this new type of rocket. This new technology incorporates 3D printing and will save millions of dollars that NASA would have spent on manufacturing.
Actually, SLM is a cousin to 3D printing and can cut down manufacturing time considerably. This new machine turns the metal powder into a pattern by using a laser to melt it. Once the metal dust is melted, it can be fused into whatever shape or design you want. This makes it possible to create highly complex designs that are made from a single piece of metal. As you can imagine, this dramatically increases the strength and durability of the final product.
All of these new technologies are being used to create the space launch system or SLS, a rocket designed to take people to asteroids and even Mars in the future. This will allow NASA to save a considerable amount of money and will actually increase the safety of the final product. Manufacturing time is cut down considerably and some parts can even be produced in a single day. Since the parts of the system won’t be welded together, they are stronger structurally and will hold up better under the rigors of launch and space.
These innovations spell cost savings and increased safety for NASA, the American people, and the astronauts. Many of the parts that are being printed out now are going to be tested for structure and durability later this year in hot fire tests. Specifically, they involve the J-2X engine of the SLS. By 2017, NASA hopes to have the first SLS test flight and by that time selective laser melting will have been used to manufacture the majority of the parts required. This is truly an exciting time to be involved in technological innovation and space travel. Can you imagine what the future holds from here?