The so-called “3D printers” have certainly been in the news over the past few months but this time they’ve really been used to light off a blast. NASA has test-fired a rocket motor that used parts printed to order:
NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne designed and fabricated a key part for a rocket engine with a 3D printer, shaving six months and 70 percent off the cost of production. A successful test of the component, a rocket injector assembly that delivers liquid oxygen and hydrogen into the engine’s combustion chamber, may lead to more efficient manufacturing in the future.
The injector takes a year to produce using traditional methods. They printed this one in 4 months at at 30% of the cost. That, my friends, is huge. Cheaper components more quickly made will yield more cost-effective payload lift capacity and more launches. While the process described looks good on Earth I’m wondering just how effective it would be in a zero-G environment. The ability to produce your own spare parts from raw materials in situ would offer significant improvements in longer-term missions and, most certainly, in any colonization efforts on the moon or Mars.