NASA Leverages 3D Printing for Rocket
To help protect NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, technicians and engineers are using 3D printed part molds to ensure ideal thermal protection on smaller components and hardware. Traditionally, spray-on foam or another type of insulation is applied to parts of all sizes to protect the rocket from the heat generated during launch. This insulation also helps to keep propellant cool so it doesn’t combust.
Image Credit: Kelleher Photography
The challenge, however, has always been ensuring that small parts in difficult-to-access places are still appropriately covered; this often requires manual application of the spray-on insulation, and because of the tight spaces, extensive coverage is not necessarily ensured.
The answer has been the use of 3D-printed molds for these parts. They allow for the insulation to be mixed and poured into the mold while it still houses the part. The process allows the coating to expand, providing complete coverage. The end result is a perfectly insulated part in less time.
NASA and Boeing engineers performed extensive development and qualification pour foam testing early in the program. Using this data, the team developed a refined process that reduced the amount of time required to certify individual 3D printed molds and allowed the team to spend more time focusing on requirements of the SLS and Orion.
Source: Thomas Insights