Stratasys 3D printing technology creates 200 components for NASA’s moon mission

13th September 2022

Stratasys and Lockheed Martin have teamed up with NASA to create 200 3D printed parts for the Orion spacecraft primed for the moon as part of the Artemis mission expected in late-September. Using the latest innovations in additive manufacturing, the spacecraft features lightweight, durable parts able to withstand the pressures and temperatures of space travel.

The parts are critical structural components that hold the spacecraft together, including brackets, supports, fuses and battery carriers. Various parts will be used in the spacecraft’s centre structure, descent module and heat shield. 

Heat Shield – This component is made from a flexible material, so it can withstand extreme temperatures during re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere at the end of the mission. 

Centre Structure – Is the largest component of the spacecraft and contains large metal tubes that guide the movement of propellant from the tanks to the engine. It is constructed from aluminium and titanium, and using 3D printing technology. 

Descent Module – Holds the crew during space travel. It is composed of three parts; the base, the service module and the capsule. The astronauts sit in these modules and are protected from radiation and other harmful particles by a lightweight titanium shell. 

Service Module – Contains the propulsion units and life-support systems required for travelling into space. It also features solar panels and radiators that regulate the temperature of the spacecraft. 

The NASA team decided to use 3D printing instead of traditional manufacturing methods because of the speed and flexibility of the process. Components can be produced in a matter of weeks compared to months or even years with traditional manufacturing techniques. They are also extremely lightweight and have the advantage of being easier to transport. 

The Orion spacecraft has used additive manufacturing technology to fabricate critical parts for the mission. They are constructed using a combination of metals and plastics that are produced by advanced 3D printers. These machines work with a wide range of materials to produce highly detailed and complex shapes at a fraction of the time and cost of traditional manufacturing methods. 

Using additive technologies has enabled NASA to reduce the weight of its spacecraft and improve the durability of its components. It has also improved the safety of the craft by ensuring that the components are leak-free and can withstand extreme temperatures and pressure during the flight. 

According to NASA, these components are cheaper and safer to manufacture than parts made by traditional methods. This has made the agency a major proponent of additive manufacturing technology and its potential benefits in space exploration and other fields. 

The team plans to use additive manufacturing to build key components of the spacecraft like the service module and the command module that will be used during missions to the moon and beyond.

Efficiency has been at the absolute pinnacle of NASA’s wish list for years now. From a mission standpoint, they can put their best foot forward with a slick yet very efficient design. But there’s much more than that when it comes to using additive manufacturing in space applications. 

Space is hard on things, especially tech devices and equipment, so having a repair system that can quickly and efficiently swap out malfunctioning components can literally save a life. That’s the kind of thing you don’t find every day, and that’s why this collaboration between two giants of the industry is truly an exciting one for the future of space travel.

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