Triton Space Technologies Designs Complex Rocket Parts with MakerBot METHOD X

Triton Space Technologies, a Massachusetts-based space start-up, is using MakerBot METHOD X 3D Printer to produce highly complex rocket engine parts for an upcoming 2021 lunar landing mission.

Besides specializing in producing rocket propulsion systems, Triton also does contract engineering and prototype manufacturing services for customers requiring bespoke products at their state-of-the-art CNC machine shop.

Then they received an order from a customer who commissioned them to build valves for a lunar landing mission for them. Having used large-scale industrial 3D printers in the past, Luke Colby, President and CEO of Triton Space Technologies, was intrigued to find out whether a desktop machine could be used to produce truly functional prototypes.

3D printed prototypes (left) and finished valves machined in aerospace-grade materials (right).
We wanted to create a functional prototype of the valve, to check that all the parts fitted together properly and that the internal parts could slide and move as they should.

We went into it not really expecting that the METHOD X would be able to keep the tolerances needed for the sliding parts to move, but it did.Luke Colby, President and CEO of Triton Space Technologies

Before METHOD X, Triton machined prototypes from sheet aluminum in its machine shop, a costly and inefficient process that took 2-3 days per prototype and created a lot of material waste. The alternative was to outsource to a 3D printing service bureau. However, this took even longer – up to a week for each prototype – and didn’t always result in a usable part.

But with METHOD X, the turnaround time was reduced from days to hours.

The METHOD X 3D printer has evolved as a tool, providing us with a high level of reliability during part production.

In our line of business, this is essential – especially in comparison to other 3D printers where there’s a risk that the final part will not come out as you’d expect. METHOD X mitigates risk by helping us to answer questions much earlier on in the design phase, so that’s very valuable.Luke Colby, President and CEO of Triton Space Technologies

The support for Stratasys® SR-30 soluble support material also meant that Triton was able to produce functional prototypes with the necessary tolerances required for aerospace applications. This greatly reduced the need and labor time to file or sand parts if they were produced without supports or with breakaway support.

Luke Colby holding a valve prototype 3D printed using MakerBot METHOD X.
We also used the METHOD X to create a prototype of an injector head assembly for the manifold of a small rocket engine. The idea was that it should have one common sliding surface that would open up with flow passages for both propellants at the same time.

That would not have been possible with traditional manufacturing methods, as you end up with an assembly of many different parts coming together with a whole lot of seals in between them.Luke Colby, President and CEO of Triton Space Technologies

Looking ahead, Colby is excited about MakerBot’s rapidly growing materials portfolio, particularly Nylon Carbon Fiber. The modularity of the METHOD extruders also means they can continually expand and improve on what they can do with different materials. This is especially crucial since most products become obsolete almost as soon as you buy them.

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