3D Printing Shaping the Future of Space Travel

3D Printing shaping the future of space travel

Photo Credit: Nasa

Boeing’s Starline Space Taxis to Employ Several 3D Printed High-Grade Components

3D Printing is no more restricted only to prototypes building. Gone are the days when it was only considered fit for building prototypes, but not for commercial production. In a recent development, Oxford Performance Materials, a privately owned company has been hired by Boeing to build around 600 3D Printed parts for Boeing’s Starliner Space Taxis. In a strategic alliance between Oxford and Hexcel Corp, $10 million investment is awaited to fuel this space travel project.

New Chapter in 3D Printing Industry Unfolds

The strategic alliance is opening a new chapter in 3D Printing industry. Commercial production of aircraft engines, space ships’ high-grade components and several other airspace equipments will make way for many other private companies operating in the same industry.

In an effort to broaden the scope of space travel beyond government missions, Boeing Starliner is planned to be designed as a crew capsule for Commercial Crew Development program of NASA.

3D Printing Reduces Production Cost

In an interview with Reuters, President of Oxford’s aerospace business Larry Varholak told that it will help them reduce the cost of production as well as the capsule weight.

In the words of Varholak, “It’s everything from brackets supporting the propulsion system to internal structures for the air revitalization system.”

The reduction is calculated based on the conventional method of manufacturing where plastic and metals are widely used. Moreover, the expected weight reduction is in the scale of around 60% as compared to the conventional manufacturing methods.

Oxford Performance Materials

Oxford Performance Materials was founded in the year 2000 as a materials science company based in South Windsor, Connecticut. The company ventured into 3D Printing in 2006. It started manufacturing several aircraft components, facial implants, cranial implants and human vertebrae substitute.

It was only in 2012 that the company entered into defence and aerospace sectors. In a breakthrough, the company proved that the printed PEKK remains stable at extreme temperatures in the range of 300dF to -300dF. PEKK is the plastic used by Oxford and is known to have many other properties such as radiation resistant and fire resistant.

Growth of 3D Printing Market is Surging

Advance developments in Additive Manufacturing technology is luring market for bigger investments. In 2007, 3D Printing market was at a volume of around $1 billion, which grew upto $5.2 billion by 2015. According to Wohlers Report, the 3D Printing market is expected to grow upto $26.5 by the year 2021. Wohlers Associates is a consulting firm which is involved in tracking the developments in 3D Printing industry from the last 20 years.

17% share of the total 3D Printing market is held by the aerospace industry. 3D Printing seems to be a good fit to aerospace industry because of its low volume customised printing requirement. In the traditional manufacturing mode, the complexity and low volume of the printed parts makes the entire process quite expensive. First Starliner Space Taxi is expected to get ready by June 2018 and to carry the first crew in August 2018.

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