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With so much talk about aerospace 3D printing lately, most of the focus goes on what's being done in jet engines and general earthly aircraft. But you may not know that 3D printing is also being used on space equipment with full intention of being used far into the future for more extensive operations. Take a look at what's already being done and what 3D printers may be creating later to help our exploration of space at a more affordable cost.
Use in Satellites and Spacecraft
National Defense Magazine recently reported on how Lockheed is currently using 3D printing to create satellite parts. This could eventually shape a whole new way to design satellites in half the time and at less cost, particularly when one needs to be replaced in a hurry. It's the creation of satellite brackets that's getting the most attention right now. In fact, the above report says Boeing is said to be working on creating those brackets right now.
3D-printed brackets in satellites are going to be a very important engineering tool because they can fit into tighter spaces for sensor equipment. And with testing already done on these brackets several years ago, they're a recurring aerospace item being printed en masse.
It goes beyond just satellites, though. Not everyone likely knows that 3D printers have created similar brackets on equipment being sent into deep space. When the Juno spacecraft heading to Jupiter launched in 2011, it also had parts created on a 3D printer. We'll know if Juno is successful in a couple of years when it reaches Jupiter's orbit. So far, those 3D-printed brackets are proven durable thanks to being printed with titanium alloy and using the rare 3D printers using an electron beam melting process.
This is just the beginning of what we'll see used in space. With more manned space flights still perhaps possible in the future, are there plans to create 3D-printed parts for those spacecraft?
Plans for the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle
NASA has been planning a manned spacecraft called Orion that's capable of taking astronauts into deeper space to land on asteroids or even other planets like Mars. With testing ongoing, National Defense Magazine reports that Lockheed is working on creating parts for Orion using 3D printers. One of those is a forward bay cover, which would be the largest object ever created on a 3D printer for an aerospace project.
With 3D printers printing larger parts already this year, you can see how fast things are developing. Before the end of the decade, 3D printers may be printing most parts for aerospace and bring production costs to a minimum. In the end, this could help NASA develop space craft that don't require billion-dollar budgets.