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.

A 3D Printed Aerial Drone

Drones come in many shapes and sizes, but now they can also be 3d printed! To make these drones, the [Decode] group used a selective laser sintering process which is pretty interesting in itself. Once the printing process is done, these little planes are built with only five structural and aerodynamic components. Because of their simplicity, these drones can reportedly be assembled and ready to fly with no tools in only ten minutes!

This design was done by the [Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council] at the University of Southampton in the UK by a group of students. Besides this particular plane, they concentrate their efforts on building autonomous drones under 20 Kilograms. Using a 3D sintering process with this design allowed them to make this plane how they wanted, regardless of the ease of machining the parts.

This group has several videos of their planes on their website to download, but check after the break for an embedded video of the [Newscientist] piece about their project. Continue reading “A 3D Printed Aerial Drone”

CNC Build Ditches Rods For Hardboard

This is a redesigned x-axis for [Peter Jansen’s] selective laser sintering rig. We looked in on his SLS project last month and since then he’s been refining the design. The new component uses a rack and pinion system, relying on some Kapton tape to reduce friction for a nice smooth slide. One stepper motor powers the laser-cut gear box with four gears interfacing the sled to the frame for stable and accurate motion. Now he’s just got to work out the math/physics that go into finding the optimal gear ratios as this prototype is just a rough guess. If you’ve got the skills to work it out please lend [Peter] a hand as we’re quite excited with where this is going.

Selective Laser Sintering Rig On The Cheap

[Peter’s] been hard at work designing an affordable Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D printing platform. We first saw his work on this back in April when he was working mostly with acrylic. Now he’s moved on to a design that relies on hardboard which has resulted in a build that comes it at around $20 including the motors.

The design uses a dual z-axis table for the feed stage and the build stage. That is to say, as the powder is fused together by the laser the platform it is on is lowered. Next to this platform, the feed platform is raised, allowing the power to be swept onto the build stage. This setup is moving in the right direction, but we’re still waiting to see what works when it comes to adding the laser and sourcing the powder.

3D Laser Printer

Working with easy replication in mind, [Peter] is building a 3D laser printer. The majority of the machine is made from laser-cut acrylic held together by parts that are inexpensive and available at your local hardware store. In the end this will lay down a layer of powder, use a laser to fuse the powder together in the outline of your choice, then repeat. This is known as selective laser sintering which is sometimes used in commercial rapid prototyping and, like a lot of other cool technologies, came into existence as a result of a DARPA project.

Sorry folks, this is not a fully functioning prototype yet. [Peter] is searching for the right laser for the job and a source for the powder. If you’ve got a solution please lend a hand and let’s see this project through to completion.