Tuesday, 13 July 2021

3D Printing & Rockets

3D printing is revolutionizing the Aerospace & Aviation industry. As we outlined in our blog on the topic of “3D Printing in Space” (https://3ideatechnology.blogspot.com/2021/04/3d-printin-in-space.html), 3D printing is crucial to driving down the cost per kilogram of putting payloads in space. One of the most important ways 3D printing achieves this, is by making the process of manufacturing ‘rockets’, faster, cheaper & efficient. 

Modern era requirements of space travel, scientific research, military reconnaissance & broad coverage offerings by mobile & broadband networks to name a few, require space launches of humans &/or satellites into space. This is where launch vehicles or rockets, as they are most commonly known, come into the picture. Launching any payload into space with a rocket, however, is an expensive & risky affair. On average a rocket used to put payloads into space has more than 100,000 parts, drastically raising the probability of errors & mistakes, which may lead to a mishap. To add to this risk, rockets require huge amounts of fuel &have a comparatively low payload carrying capacity in terms of weight. Hence, the heavier the payload, higher the cost of launching it into space. This is where 3D printing changes things. 

Traditional rockets designs like the Titan rockets, which powered the Apollo missions to the Moon, have more than a 100,000 parts. These need to be fastened together with nuts & bolts, specials glues, which have to withstand enormous pressure during launch. 3D printing can help manufacture rockets & rocket parts, ‘whole’, using novel methods of Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) or Selective Laser Melting (SLM). This leads to an almost 100x reduction in the number of parts & components. This not only makes the rockets stronger in terms of withstanding external pressures, but also lighter. 

Using 3D printing to manufacture rockets, drastically reduces lead times. Designing 3Dmodels in proprietary virtual modelling software & printing these models takes a short time of only 60 days, in some cases. This is a 10x reduction compared to traditional methods, where it would take more than two years to manufacture a new rocket that is ready for space launch. 

In addition to making the process of manufacturing rockets faster, 3D printing also helps in making them efficient. Fuel tanks & engines make up for the heaviest parts of a rocket. By designing fuel tanks in one piece using novel metal alloys (carbon fiber, titanium aluminide, graphene), 3D printing can help make fuel tanks leak proof & lighter. Engines also benefit greatly due to unique & efficient thruster & combustion chamber designs. Rockets manufactured using 3D printing have been proven to provide almost 98% more thrust, at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods of making them. This means more lighter, powerful & efficient rocket engines & more space for carrying items in the payload to be delivered. 

As the Human race slowly approaches the dream of inter-space & inter-planetary travel, rockets & their indispensable utility in space launches remain paramount to realizing this dream. Luckily, for all of us who dream of travelling to the stars, 3D printing is here to expedite this voyage into the star-studded highways of space, by making rockets faster, cheaper & more efficient than ever before. 

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