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The world of aerospace 3D printing continues to look bright, especially in the realms of space. 3D-printed parts have already been placed on the solar-powered Juno spacecraft heading to Jupiter, and other more ambitious space plans will be using 3D printers as well. But what about our continuing fascination with going back to Mars? 3D printers are currently involved for very specific reasons in the printing of parts for a new experimental Mars craft. With tests underway now, it could help shape how humans cope on Mars once they get there.
The New Mars Desert Rover
Called Desert RATS (an acronym for Research and Technology Studies), the new Mars rover is basically a Hummer-sized vehicle that's being test run now in the Arizona desert. It's being designed as a rover that can hold astronauts for days at a time while they navigate the surface of Mars. Yes, this might be considered the first space SUV that won't have to constantly stop at a gas station to fuel up.
The benefit of being more rugged is the Mars terrain won't be easy to drive on. It'll be the same equivalent to riding our SUV's for days at a time up in rocky mountainside terrains. When on Mars, the parts in such a vehicle are going to be exposed to a lot of jostling that could easily get worn fast without superior quality.
This is where 3D printing is coming into play by using a printing process that's helping in providing durability.
Fused Deposition Modeling Technology
This 3D printing process helps fuse together more complex shapes that are extra durable and usually more challenging to produce in manufacturing plants. In fact, some of the parts being made on 3D printers are impossible to produce on a regular machine. Any of these parts produced any other way wouldn't make the new rover pass the durability test.
It gives you an idea of how 3D printing is helping in aerospace and getting us ready for the rugged territory that awaits on other planets. The rover can also help hurry the possibility of humans examining extra terrain of Mars without having to do it by foot. With a vehicle that can hold up under stress, the new Mars rover can go virtually anywhere without worries of something breaking down.
At the same time, it's helping NASA pare down their budgets, which has already undermined some projects in recent years. 3D printers can help them design things that are much more efficient and produced in half the time. Using Stratasys 3D printers, NASA is using thermoplastics to make these parts more lightweight. Overall, this makes the equipment much more manageable to use while still being durable enough to withstand anything, including the initial launch.