Space the Final Frontier

NASA Hops on the 3D Printing Bandwagon and Prints Some Rocket Parts

"We call it additive manufacturing now." Oh, you fancy, huh?
5488583559 49df14517c NASA Hops on the 3D Printing Bandwagon and Prints Some Rocket Parts

Someday, Bre Pettis. Someday. (Photo: flickr.com/usnavy)

As much as we love the notion of 3D printing ourselves a pizza and sitting down to a 3D printed game of canasta at a 3D printed dinner table, it sometimes seems this snazzy technology is often used to produce little more than tchotchkes.

And then NASA goes and 3D prints some rocket parts. 

Now, they haven’t exactly installed a Makerbot at Cape Canaveral. Wired reports the agency is using a technology called “selective laser melting” (which sounds like serious space business, all right) to fabricate parts for the Space Launch System. The SLS is still in development, but the plan is to take it places like asteroids and–hold on to your hat, Elon!–Mars.

The wonky details:

“It’s the latest in direct metal 3D printing — we call it additive manufacturing now,” says Ken Cooper, leader of the Advanced Manufacturing Team at the Marshall Centre. “It takes fine layers of metal powder and welds those together with a laser beam to fuse a three dimensional object from a computer file.”

He heroically restrained himself from brushing his shoulder off and adding, “Yeah, it’s pretty cool.”

Peter Thiel, are you happy now?

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com