The automotive industry has been taking advantage of 3D printing for years now. Recently we covered a story on how Local Motors is beginning to manufacture fully 3D printed cars. The aerospace industry has been more hesitant to jump into the fray. Most companies in this field have spent the last several years rigorously testing different 3D parts to insure that they were held up to the same standards and quality of traditionally manufactured parts. This series of testing has finally made its way up to NASA who is working with 3D printed gas generator parts to help upgrade the F-1 rocket engine. This engine, despite being developed in the early 60’s is still the most powerful single combustion chamber, liquid propellant engine in use today.
The tests are being conducted by the Space Launch System, which has become the spiritual successor to the cancelled Space Shuttle program, a program to which NASA is hoping will eventually become the next phase of the United States manned space flight programs. Dynetics and Aerojet Rocketdyne, who are the developers of the manufactured part, were the one who requested that NASA begin testing the 3D printed parts, as most modern rocket designs contain elements that are far too complex for traditional manufacturing to create. If this endeavor proves successful, then Sam Stevens the lead on NASA’s SLS advanced development task stated that “NASA is exploring many technologies to enhance the Space Launch System as it evolves for use in a variety of missions. If it proves to be a viable option, additive manufacturing may help us build future propulsion systems”. You can check out all the cool stuff going on at the new Space Launch System over at NASA’s website.