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NASA's Orion Spacecraft Will Be Using More Than 100 3D Printed Parts, A First For A Manned Mission

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NASA's deep space exploration vehicle Orion will be the first manned spacecraft that features 3D printed parts. Orion will have more than 100 components that will be 3D printed for the spacecraft.

Orion's first mission is set to launch in the early 2020s.

3D Printing And Deep Space

The 3D parts will be manufactured by Stratasys, Phoenix Analysis & Design Technologies, and Lockheed Martin. Out of the more than 100 3D parts, the largest will be the cover on Orion's docking hatch. The docking hatch is there to protect the ship from the harsh environment in space.

The docking hatch cover previously had a complex draft. Using 3D-printed parts, the design has been simplified. It will be made up of only six components.

For the parts, the three companies will be using a specialized 3D-printed material called Antero 800NA. This material is made by Stratasys. It is a strong thermoplastic that features heat and chemical resistance. It also doesn't build up a charge and can handle high mechanical loads.

Other parts that will be 3D printed includes brackets and other smaller components. Scott Sevcik, Vice President of Manufacturing Solutions at Stratasys praises how far 3D printing technology has jumped in recent years. He cites safety as the main objective for the parts that are being used to protect astronauts.

Sevcik said that 3D printing is a more efficient production option. He says that it is more cost effective to 3D print smaller parts rather than make an expensive injection molding tool that would cost more if a large volume of parts were being made.

3D printing also allows for more control of the design of the parts. Instead of whittling a part down from a material, the part would be built directly into its form. This also makes it easier to make light parts.

This isn't the first time that 3D printed parts have been used in space. The International Space Station has had a 3D printer since 2014. Astronauts have been testing the ability to manufacture their own tools and components in space. NASA test 3D-printed rocket components in 2013.

Orion's first test flight is set to take place in December 2019. The second test flight which will feature sending astronauts near the moon.

Harsh Environments

Although making the 3D parts will be easier to make, they will have to be tough to survive the environment of space. These parts will have to be able to survive in extreme heat without melting and shouldn't release gas into space, this could damage other parts of Orion.

Other dangers that these parts will face is the exposure to chemicals. These chemicals may cause the parts to crack or break. They will also need to be able to resist building up charge, static shock can damage electronics on the spacecraft.

Using Antero 800NA will protect Orion from all of these dangers in outer space. These 3D-printed parts are the first that are certified for deep space travel.

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