Stratasys 3D prints over 100 advanced parts for NASA’s Orion spacecraft

NASA will be heading back to the moon, and they are set to do it with the Orion deep spacecraft that is constructed using more than 100 3D-printed parts.

The space agency is embarking on a series of deep space exploration in the coming years, including planets like Mars. NASA will first send the unmanned Orion which will be codenamed Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) on a three-week voyage around the moon in December 2019. This will be followed by EM-2 in 2022 which will see the Orion carry four astronauts for the first time in decades since Apollo 17 in 1972, and go near the moon.

The Orion craft will be crafted using more than 100 3D-printed parts and was jointly engineered by Lockheed Martin, Stratasys, and Phoenix Analysis & Design Technologies. This feat marks the first time that 3D printed parts are certified for deep space use.

NASA's Orion spacecraft
NASA’s Orion spacecraft

With advances in 3D printing technologies and materials, the cost and complexity of producing space-ready components are more accessible than ever before. Instead of the usual 500 or 600 parts, only 100 3D printed parts are required as they can take on complex geometrical shapes.

The production-grade printed parts were made from Stratasys advanced materials ULTEM 9085 and an ESD (electrostatic dissipative) variant of the new Antero 800NA, a PEKK-based thermoplastic offering high performance mechanical, chemical, and thermal properties.

One example would be a critical part situated just outside of Orion’s docking hatch. This previously complex part can be simply replaced by interlocking 6 individual 3D-printed components together to form a ring on a craft’s exterior.

The Orion spacecraft leverages a variant of new Stratasys Antero 800NA to build an intricately-connected 3D printed docking hatch door
This 3-D printed Orion docking hatch cover is made of Polyetherketoneketone (PEKK), an advanced thermoplastic with electro-static dissipative capabilities. PEKK makes the hatch more affordable and faster to produce.

3D printed parts made from ULTEM 9085 are lighter than any previously used material, but they still retain the same mechanical properties without losing any strength.

Another plus is the use of the new Antero 800NA, that has the ability to dissipate static. This is highly critical as the build-up of electric charge in space could lead to the possibility of fried electronics or the causing of dangerous sparks inside the spacecraft.

Launching a spacecraft hundreds of thousands of miles away from Earth means having to withstand extreme temperatures and forces, but Antero’s ability to withstand high mechanical loads means it is able to meet NASA’s heat and chemical resistance requirements.

Lockheed Martin is one of the first customers leveraging Stratasys' Antero material - a PEKK-based thermoplastic with advanced mechanical, chemical and thermal properties.
Lockheed Martin is one of the first customers leveraging Stratasys’ Antero material – a PEKK-based thermoplastic with advanced mechanical, chemical and thermal properties.

With space exploration already using the new 3D printed plastic materials, Stratasys is anticipating their adoption in industries like civil aviation, electronics, and packaging.

Visit our FDM Themoplastics page to check out the detailed properties of the advanced materials. You can also contact us for a consultation via our contact form, info@creatz3d.com, or +65 6631 8555 for any enquiries.