More than 100 parts for NASA's Orion capsule to be 3D printed

This 3D-printed docking hatch cover for NASA's Orion spacecraft is made of an advanced thermoplastic.                  Lockheed Martin

This 3D-printed docking hatch cover for NASA's Orion spacecraft is made of an advanced thermoplastic. Lockheed Martin

The parts are being developed jointly by USA defence contractor Lockheed Martin, Stratasys, and engineering firm PADT using new materials that can withstand the extreme temperatures and chemical exposures of deep space missions.

The following flight, EM-2, will use more than 100 3D printed production parts on board, engineered in conjunction with Lockheed Martin, Stratasys and PADT.

Lockheed will use Stratasys' Antero thermoplastic for a part outside of Orion's docking hatch.

The parts will be printed at Lockheed Martin's Additive Manufacturing Lab in Stratasys advanced materials including ULTEM 9085 and an ESD (electro-static dissipative) variant of the new Antero 800NA, a PEKK-based thermoplastic offering high performance mechanical, chemical, and thermal properties.

More than 100 parts for United States space agency NASA's deep-space capsule Orion will be made by 3D printers, using technology that experts say will eventually become key to efforts to send humans to Mars. Orion is a part of NASA's follow-up program to earlier space shuttles to allow astronauts to travel beyond the International Space Station.

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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.

When NASA launches the Orion spacecraft in 2023, it won't just send four astronauts on a trip around the moon-it will send more than 100 3D-printed production parts into the universe. Scott Sevcik, the Vice President of Manufacturing Solutions at Stratasys told Reuters, "In space, for instance, materials will build up a charge".

As far the 3D printed parts are concerned, Lockheed Martin anticipates applying the tech across other aspects of its business, including things like space probes and missiles. The new materials are created to meet NASA's requirements for heat and chemical resistance. It's more cost effective to directly print a small number of parts than to spend a lot of money on an expensive injection molding tool, which only pays for itself if you're manufacturing high volumes of a part.

The flight will use a powerful rocket and Space Launch System to fly the un-manned Orion spacecraft thousands of miles beyond the Moon during a three week mission.

Brian Kaplun, Lockheed Martin Space's additive manufacturing manager praised the project.

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