Looks like 3D printing’s heading for the stars too!
SpaceX revealed late Thursday that one of the key parts of a rocket launched in January was 3D-printed, the first 3D-printed part of a rocket it has ever launched. It’s an amazing milestone, and all the more impressive for having been kept secret from the public until now. The 3D-printed Main Oxidizer Valve performed spectacularly, and marks only the beginning of SpaceX’s plans to use 3D printing, usually call “additive manufacturing,” for its rockets.
“SpaceX is pushing the boundaries of what additive manufacturing can do in the 21stcentury, ultimately making the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft more reliable, robust and efficient than ever before,” the company said in a release. “Compared with a traditionally cast part, a printed valve body has superior strength, ductility, and fracture resistance, with a lower variability in materials properties. The MOV body was printed in less than two days, compared with a typical castings cycle measured in months.”
The valve was used in a Falcon 9 launch on January 6, and had to deal with all of the extremes of pressure, temperature and vibration that a rocket launch entails. It worked just as hoped and just as well as it had in the final testing, which took three years of effort to get to. The success bodes well for the next step in SpaceX’s agenda, manned flight into space. The company is testing a 3D printed SuperDraco Engine Chamber to use with the Dragon Version 2 manned spaceflight program.
SpaceX’s stated goal has always been economical space flight, with reusable rocket boosters as its centerpiece. 3D-printed parts fit right into that. If the company can 3D print some or even most of its rockets, it would start out well below the usual cost today of a space mission, with the average mission getting cheaper and cheaper the more it can be reused. It could even someday expand its manufacturing systems to other kinds of transportation manufacturing, an important consideration as the world becomes more resource-conscious.
“SpaceX looks forward to continuing to fine tune both the SuperDraco engines and additive manufacturing program, in order to develop the safest, most reliable vehicles ever flown,” the company concluded.