NASA's Orion spacecraft will feature over 100 3D printed parts

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The largest 3D-printed part is a cover on the spacecraft's docking hatch, which will protect it from the harsh external environment.

USA defense contractor Lockheed Martin, 3D printing specialist Stratasys, and engineering firm PADT are teaming up to deliver next-generation 3D printed parts for NASA's Orion deep-space spacecraft. Key to the project are Stratasys advanced materials - including an ESD variant of the new Antero™ 800NA, a PEKK-based thermoplastic offering high performance mechanical, chemical, and thermal properties.

Orion's 3D printed parts will be made at Lockheed Martin's additive manufacturing lab. Next-gen materials used include ULTEM 9085 and Stratasys' new Antero material.

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A later flight, named EM-2, is expected to carry astronauts near the moon as part of an experimental mission created to prepare NASA for later flights that venture into deeper parts of outer space. The mission will have more than 100 3D printed production parts, which will be engineered by Lockheed Martin, Stratasys and Phoenix Analysis & Design Technologies. Orion's use of 3D printing is unique because the spacecraft will have astronauts on board when it is sent into deep space. "In space, for instance, materials will build up a charge", the Vice President of Manufacturing Solutions at Stratasys, Scott Sevcik, said to Reuters.

NASA noted that "Antero is ideally suited to meet NASA's requirements for heat and chemical resistance, along with the ability to withstand high mechanical loads".

Why exactly would an aerospace company opt for 3D-printed parts over traditional manufacturing?

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Like a complex piece situated just outside Orion's docking hatch; the fragment consists of six individual 3D-printed components locked together to form a ring on the craft's exterior. The printing technology will be used for more than 100 components, each made out of a special new material capable of handling the extremes of deep space.

This type of on-demand part printing provides a more economical method of building a complicated spaceship. It also becomes easier to develop lighter parts. And, according to Sevcik, it means that the designers can be a bit freer with the design, as they aren't constrain by existing parts and specifications. Orion is part of NASA's mission to take humans farther into space than ever before.

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