3D Printed NASA Rocket Parts: From the Moon to Mars

Bigger, Cheaper, and Faster Manufacturing

NASA is preparing for the human exploration of Mars and 3D printing is going to play a huge role in it. Experts, engineers and academia are working to make this happen. An emerging technology by NASA, called Rapid Analysis and Manufacturing Propulsion Technology (or RAMPT) will be using metal powder and lasers to produce large, complex engine components like nozzles and combustion chambers never done before. The advantage is that the most difficult and expensive rocket engine parts can be produced for a lower price. Other companies in the aerospace industry can apply this manufacturing technology to the medical, transportation, and infrastructure industries.

Via the new technology, NASA has printed one of the largest engine nozzles for a rocket. It measures 40 inches in diameter and 38 inches tall with its own cooling channels. Blown powder directed energy deposition can produce these large structures, and it’s cheaper and quicker than traditional fabrication techniques. Compared to one year long production via traditional welding, this nozzle was done in just 30 days.

NASA’s Space Launch System (or SLS) rocket team and the Orion spacecraft, the exploration vehicle that will carry the human crew to space, are the backbone to NASA’s deep space exploration plans, including sending the first woman and next man to the Moon in 2024 and establish sustainable exploration by the end of 2030. SLS is investing in RAMPT to certify it for spaceflight. Together they will build and evaluate a nozzle that is up to 5 feet in diameter and 7 feet tall, all at reduced schedule and cost.

Entering into public-private partnerships, NASA is working with academia and industry to play an important role. With Auburn University in Alabama, RAMPT collaborates with specialty manufacturing companies already advancing the “state of the art” and making the developed technologies available to the private sector. It adds value to NASA missions as they share some development costs. The technology may also play critical roles in many other industries, including commercial space.