NASA’s Orion Capsule Is First Deep Space Vehicle To Include 3D-Printed Parts

More than 100 components for the Orion spacecraft will be 3D printed for the capsule’s first manned mission.

NASA

NASA’s Orion spacecraft is destined for great things. This deep space exploration vehicle will take astronauts farther into the solar system than humanity has ever traveled before, and it will do so using 3D-printed components, CNET reports.

Orion’s first manned mission is set to launch in the early 2020s and by that time the capsule’s deep-space crew module will include more than 100 parts made with a 3D printer.

This makes the Orion the first deep space craft to be built using 3D printing, notes CNBC, and marks yet another premiere in space exploration.

The 3D-printed parts for the Orion capsule are being developed by Stratasys, a leading expert in 3D printing, together with engineering firm Phoenix Analysis & Design Technologies (PADT) and global security and aerospace company Lockheed Martin, details 3DPrint.com.

The three companies have joined efforts to produce optimum quality materials suited for the harsh conditions in deep space.

“There are no higher requirements out there than what goes into a vehicle that’s keeping astronauts safe in space,” Scott Sevcik, vice president of manufacturing solutions at Stratasys, said in a statement.

The materials that go into the Orion’s make-up have to meet specific requirements of both quality and performance, Sevcik explained.

The 3D-printed parts for the deep space vehicle need to be resistant to extreme heath and to certain chemicals, in order to withstand the severe conditions of space travel. At the same time, the materials they’re made of have to be strong enough to carry high loads.

Another important demand is the resistance to electrical charge. This will prevent static shocks that could fry electronics aboard the Orion capsule.

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In view of all this, the three companies have chosen to go with Stratasys’ Antero 800NA, a high-performance thermoplastic that fits all these criteria.

Among the 3D-printed parts for the Orion is the cover for the capsule’s docking hatch, together with other brackets and smaller elements. These components, which are being created at Lockheed Martin’ Additive Manufacturing Lab, are now the first ever 3D-printed parts certified for deep space, CNBC points out.

One of the major advantages of using 3D printing is that this technology enables companies to produce cost-effective products in a much easier way, said Dr. Phil Reeves, Stratasys’ vice president of strategic consulting.

For instance, the previously complex draft of Orion’s docking hatch cover has been reduced to a simpler design, made up of only six components — all individually 3D-printed.

In the same manner, the other 3D-printed parts could also be designed to simplify the configuration of the capsule.

“Those 100 parts might replace 500 or 600 parts, as the printed technology can be used to create complex geometrical shapes,” said Reeves.