NASA
Off World

3D Printing May Be Our Way Into Space

Just one of these massive spacecraft will have 600 3D-printed parts.

Kristin HouserFebruary 7th 2017

3D-printed materials are finding their way into our closets, our science labs, and even our bodies. Next stop? Space.

Aerospace company Boeing has announced that it has enlisted Oxford Performance Materials to 3D print 600 parts for its Starliner space taxis. Oxford will construct the Starliner parts using polyetherketoneketone (PEKK), a plastic that is expected to hold up under the extreme conditions and temperatures of space flight.

“What really makes it valuable to NASA and Boeing is this material is as strong as aluminum at significantly less weight,” Larry Varholak, president of Oxford’s aerospace business, told Reuters in an interview.

The Starliner space taxis won’t make their first trip to the International Space Station (ISS) until 2018, but when they do, they’ll be one of the first privately developed vehicles to transport humans into space, a task traditionally reserved for government agencies like NASA.

As the number of planned off-world missions continues to increase, we will need to turn to advanced construction technologies to keep up. Not only will it be important to find ways to build better spacecraft that can travel farther into space using less energy, but eventually we’ll want to build colonies on Mars and other inhospitable parts of the universe. 3D printing could be the technology to make that happen.

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