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Atlas V Rocket Soars from Earth with 3D-Printed Plastic Parts – ENGINEERING.com

by • April 7, 2016 • No Comments

Additive making (AM) is altering the way that many industries do business, but one field that may unquestionably stand to drop its production costs with 3D printing is that of the space industry.
The March 22 commence of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket is one salient example of the next impact that AM can have on space innovation—not only for the reason the Atlas V sent the initially commercial 3D printing device into space via the Cygnus cargo craft, but for the reason the rocket itself featured a number of serial-production thermoplastic 3D-printed parts in its construction. The rocket, and so, represents the talent of actually space manufacturers to shift of costly metal components to plastic.
ULA’s Atlas V rocket, that commenceed of Cape Canaveral on Tuesday, March 22, carrying a number of 3D-printed plastic parts. (Image courtesy of Stratasys.)ULA’s Atlas V rocket, that commenceed of Cape Canaveral on Tuesday, March 22, carrying a number of 3D-printed plastic parts. (Image courtesy of Stratasys.)
Relying on the skills and innovation of Stratasys, known for its pro thermoplastic 3D printing processs, ULA was able-bodied to additively manufacture a number of parts for the ducting process on the Atlas V. For the rocket’s payload fairing, ULA was able-bodied to 3D print brackets, nozzles and panel close-outs via a Fortus 900mc production 3D printing device, with Stratasys adding engineering, production tooling and the production of parts.
In the case of the 3D-printed environmental control process (ECS), that provided nitrogen cooling to the rocket booster for the Atlas V, ULA was able-bodied to complete a 57 percent part-cost reduction. The 16 3D-printed components that wrapped around the spacecraft’s cargo fairing ultimately replaced 140 traditionally manufactured parts that may have previously been needd for such an application.
A 3D-printed ECS duct utilized to provide cooling to the electronics and avionics aboard the Atlas V. (Image courtesy of Stratasys.)A 3D-printed ECS duct utilized to provide cooling to the electronics and avionics aboard the Atlas V. (Image courtesy of Stratasys.)
To be able-bodied to shift of the metal components they may have typically utilized, the aerospace manufacturer turned to Stratasys’ proprietary ULTEM 9085 material. ULTEM 9085 has been engineered specifically for use in aerospace, car and military applications due to its heat and chemical resistance, high strength-to-weight ratio and FST (flame, smoke and toxicity) rating. In fact, the material can endure temperatures as extreme as 59.4°C to 107°C (–75°F to 225°F). The material’s existing certifications for use in aircraft in addition manufacture it simpler to incorporate into existing making scenarios.
With all of these qualities in mind, ULTEM 9085 was perfect for replacing additional costly metal parts, ultimately saving ULA in the production of the Atlas V. 3D-printed plastic parts need far-less post processing than metal 3D printing technologies. Moreover, the processs and the materials are much less expensive. According to an International Business Times interview with ULA’s program manager for additive making, Greg Arend, the switch of traditional to additive making has saved the aerospace company USD$1 million per year.

Despite the fact that the rocket commence cost hundreds of millions of dollars, the use of 3D-printed, plastic end-parts on the Atlas V may demonstrate an important—and cost-effective—change in the way that space travel is conducted in the next.
About the Author

Michael Molitch-Hou is a 3D printing specialist and the founder of The Reality™ Institute, a service institute dedicated to determining what’s real and what’s not so that you don’t have to. He is a graduate of the MFA significant studies and writing program at CalArts, and a firm advocate of world peace.


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