NASA’s 3-D Printer Is Not Like the 3-D Printers You’ve Heard Too Much About

NASA’s 3-D printer is the 3-D printer your 3-D printer wishes it could be

This was most definitely not made by NASA.
This was most definitely not made by NASA. Fred Kahl / The Art of 3D Print Failure

You’ve heard a lot about 3-D printing: 3-D printed guns, 3-D printed pizza, 3-D printing pens3-D printed sonograms3-D printed meat3-D printed everything.

3-D printed overload.

The home revolution of 3-D printing, heralded by contraptions like the MakerBot Replicator, mean that maybe your life, but certainly your internet, is clogged with ABS plastic. (Sometimes shaped more convincingly than others.)

NASA’s 3-D printer is not like that. NASA’s 3-D printer is the 3-D printer your 3-D printer wishes it could be. For one, it makes rocket parts. Rocket parts that work.

This is a video of NASA test firing its 3-D printed rocket:

3-D Printed Injector Hot Firing

Ars Technica:

The test shown above, which occurred on August 22, involved an entire 3D printed injector plate—the largest 3D printed component NASA has ever tested. It delivered enough fuel and oxygen to produce 20,000 lbs of thrust (about 89 kilonewtons), a bit more than you can get from an F-15′s Pratt and Whitney F100 turbofan running at full military power.

“Of course, NASA’s 3D printing doesn’t have much in common with the kind of home 3D printing ,” says Lee Hutchinson for Ars. (Snark added for emphasis.)

NASA’s high tech 3-D printing could help the agency kick one of its ever-present woes. A 2012 audit report says that, for as much cool stuff as NASA makes, “NASA projects share another less positive trait – they cost significantly more to complete and took longer to launch than originally promised.”

Ars Technica:

3D printing—or “additive manufacturing,” as it’s called when you get industrial like this—is seen by NASA as a vital way to keep rocket component development costs down. In a lot of ways, the ability to rapidly prototype via DMLS harkens back to the Apollo-era development method of fast physical iteration. Rather than spending a tremendous amount of time performing deep, computer-based analyses of rocket components, NASA can rough in a design and then print and test a component within hours or days.

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