NASA is 3D printing rocket engine parts

In case you haven’t heard, NASA is building a new rocket – a replacement for the shuttle – that will eventually take crews again outside low Earth orbit. It’s called the Space Launch System and looks surprisingly similar to the Saturn V that took men to the moon. Manufacturing technology is light years ahead of what it was in the mid-60s, and this time around NASA is printing some rocket parts with selective laser melting.

Teams at the Marshall Space Flight center are melting metal powder together with lasers to produce parts for the new J-2X engine intended for use in the earth departure stage of the Space Launch System. While the 3d-printed parts haven’t seen a use in any live fire tests of the J-2X, the goal is to test these parts out later in the year and eventually have them man-rated, to carry astronauts to the moon, asteroids, or even Mars.

This isn’t the first time 3d printing has been used to make rocket engines. Earlier this year we saw [Rocket Moonlighting] build an entire rocket engine, powered by propane and NO2, using the same technology that NASA is using. [Moonlighting]‘s engine is quite small, too small to lift itself off the ground, even. Still, it’s awesome to see 3D printing that will eventually take people into solar orbit.

3D printed lugs for your custom bike

We haven’t heard much about 3D printing using stainless steel as the medium, but that’s exactly what’s going on with the lugs used to assemble this bicycle frame. They’re manufactured using LaserCusing, which is a brand name for parts produced using Selective Laser Melting. The video after the break gives you an overview of what it takes to clean up each of these parts.

The laser melts metal power to solidify areas needed in the final part. Just like the hobby printing we’ve seen on the RepRap or Makerbot there are structural supports necessary to complete the print job, and these need to be removed after the laser has done its work. This is where the majority of the labor comes in. You’ll see a ton of waste material pulled out of the cage-like lug, and we’re sure there’s no shortage of filing and polishing to finish up. But wow, what an interesting result. We just need to figure out if anyone has found a cost-effective way to hack together one of these metal-powder printers.

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