Posts Tagged ‘nasa’

31 December, 2014

Military and aerospace (mil/aero) engineers and executives know all too well the (very long) time it takes to see a new technology designed, developed, tested, manufactured, and fielded.

Long acquisition cycles have long plagued the mil/aero community—in some cases, leaving soldiers and astronauts waiting egregiously long for much-needed solutions. Times are changing, however, and new tools, systems, and components just might be delivered to awaiting mil/aero personnel sooner rather than later. After all, NASA and its contractor were able to deliver a tool to the International Space Station (ISS) in just one week’s time—a major mil/aero achievement and an historic first.

It can take months or even years, depending on the launch resupply schedule, to get equipment to space, and for exploration missions, resupply from Earth may be impossible, NASA officials explain. Yet, additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing) may change not only how NASA completes exploration missions, but also the way science is conducted on the ISS, they say.

In just one week, California-based contractor Made in Space Inc. designed a 3D model of a ratchet wrench and delivered it to NASA engineers, who performed safety qualification testing. Once the design was finalized, the ground station print of the ratchet was sent to NASA authorities for a safety qualification. After qualification, the file for the ratchet was emailed (also called uplinked, or uploaded via a link between the ISS and NASA on the ground) to the ISS laptop connected to the Zero-G Printer. Made In Space engineers confirmed that the file was uploaded correctly and sent the command to initiate the print.


“This wrench will not be used in space, but what if it were a tool the crew needed?” ponders Niki Werkheiser, space station 3D printer program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. “We are breaking new ground not only in the way we manufacture in space but also in the way we operate and approve space hardware that is built in space, rather than launched from Earth.

“If you can transmit a file to the station as quickly as you can send an email, it opens up endless possibilities for all the types of things that you can make from CubeSat components to experiment hardware,” Werkheiser adds. “We even may be able to make objects that previously couldn’t even be launched to space.”

The 3D-printed ratchet wrench will be delivered to Earth for analysis and testing, along with the other parts printed at the ISS. Great work this year, mil/aero community. Here’s to an innovative new year!

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31 December, 2014

Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) completed the first phase of a NASA technology demonstration by printing a tool (a ratchet wrench) with a design file transmitted from the ground to the Zero-G 3D printer in space.

“For the printer’s final test in this phase of operations, NASA wanted to validate the process for printing on demand, which will be critical on longer journeys to Mars,” says Niki Werkheiser, manager of the space station 3D printer program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. “In less than a week, the ratchet was designed, approved by safety and other NASA reviewers, and the file was sent to space where the printer made the wrench in four hours.”

The Zero-G 3D printer built the wrench by depositing 104 layers of plastic, a process called additive manufacturing.


The 4.48-inch-long by 1.29-inch-wide wrench was designed by Noah Paul-Gin, an engineer at Made In Space Inc., a northern California company that NASA contracted to design, build, and operate the printer. Paul-Gin digitally crafted a 3D model of the tool using Autodesk Inventor, a popular 3D computer-aided design (CAD) software used in product simulation, 3D mechanical design, tooling creation, design communication, and engineer-to-order applications.

This is the first time a design file has been sent from the ground to make a tool, a NASA spokesperson explains. The entire process – from tool design through qualification testing and printing – was accomplished in just one week. Military and aerospace (mil/aero) geeks everywhere recognize that achieving this feat in such a small window of time is very rare.

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30 December, 2014

One of the hottest trends to hit the military and aerospace (mil/aero) market is additive manufacturing, which is more widely known as three-dimensional (3D) printing. This year, in fact, NASA hit a new milestone with 3D printing.

Mil/aero systems, applications, and end users are benefitting more and more from the adoption of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) systems and components, especially from the fast-paced world of entertainment—an industry vertical that has employed 3D printing for years and years.

Additive manufacturing is now harnessed by various industries, from automotive to healthcare, and now mil/aero. In fact, TechRepublic editor Lyndsey Gilpin predicts: “As it evolves, 3D printing technology is destined to transform almost every major industry and change the way we live, work, and play in the future.” (Read more at

The size of the global market, including 3D printer sales, materials, and associated services, is predicted to reach $16.2 billion by 2018 from $3.8 billion in 2014, according to independent research company Canalys. Analysts forecast the 3D printing market will grow by more than 500 percent with a year-over-year growth rate of 45.7 percent over the next five years.

made in space

Engineers, scientists, and executives at NASA have certainly embraced the disruptive technology—and they’ve achieved historic firsts in the process.

The International Space Station (ISS), for the first time in history, gained use of an onboard 3D printer (read about the first 3D printer in space in my previous blog posts). Astronauts on the ISS also output the first items 3D-printed in space; the first test print was of a printer component. Perhaps most impressive, the ISS team produced a ratchet wrench using a design file that was transmitted from the ground (Earth) to the 3D printer. Be sure to read on for the specifics.

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31 October, 2014

NASA has increased its reliance on private, commercial space companies following the retirement of the U.S. Space Shuttle program in 2011. Among NASA’s growing list of commercial partners is Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Virginia.

The Antares launch vehicle, from Orbital Sciences Corp., is the largest rocket produced by the company and the largest to be launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Orbital engineers first developed the Antares (originally called Taurus II) – under a $171 million NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Space Act Agreement (SAA) – to be an expendable launch system capable of launching payloads heavier than 5,000 kilograms (11,000 pounds) into low-Earth orbit (LEO). More specifically, Antares is designed to launch Orbital’s Cygnus spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of NASA’s COTS and Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) programs.

The Antares rocket made its inaugural flight on 21 April 2013, and has successfully completed two resupply missions, ORB-1 and ORB-2, from the same facility – starting in January 2014 and bringing nearly 5,000 pounds of supplies and experiments to the ISS each trip. Under the company’s $1.9 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA, Orbital Sciences Corp. will send approximately 20 metric tons of cargo to the ISS over the course of eight missions. (SpaceX, with headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., won an even larger CRS contract for 12 missions.)

Orbital’s third resupply mission was unsuccessful, and teams are working to figure out what went wrong. Debris was scattered over an estimated one-mile radius from the site of the blast. NASA cautions the public not to collect any debris from the accident as it could be hazardous and instead to call the incident response team at 757-824-1295.

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30 October, 2014

NASA personnel have gotten really good at social media. In fact, NASA engineers, scientists, and officials have been taking to various social media and news outlets, generating a great deal of excitement over a night launch on the East Coast of the United States.

Military and aerospace (mil/aero) enthusiasts everywhere – this mil/aero geek included – watched with bated breath for what was to be an historic aerospace event: the first nighttime launch of the Antares rocket. The event also marked the first use of the commercial CASTOR 30XL upper-stage solid rocket motor developed and tested by ATK. What’s more: It was a commercial launch, from Virginia, that would have been visible from East Coast locales from New Hampshire to South Carolina.

NASA officials had supplied would-be sky gazers with a detailed map of the visible area, complete with time and elevation markers. also speculated that the event “could be a spectacularly bright sight for observers, weather permitting.”


Orbital Sciences Corp. officials had successfully launched four of the company’s Antares rockets, between April 2013 and July 2014. The fifth Antares rocket and accompanying Cygnus cargo spacecraft lifted off from Launch Pad 0 of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, six miles off the Eastern shore of Virginia, at 6:22 p.m. on 28 October 2014. Mere seconds after lift-off, the Antares rocket suffered a catastrophic failure that destroyed it and everything onboard – the Cygnus spacecraft and hosted NASA payloads, including International Space Station (ISS) supplies and many young students’ research projects – the total value of the loss is estimated to be more than $200 million (U.S.)

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29 October, 2014

India solidified its place in the history books when late last month (September 2014) the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) and technology demonstrator successfully entered into orbit around the Red Planet.

The MOM achievement launched India into aerospace history as the first nation in Asia to reach Mars—joining the ranks with the European Space Agency (ESA), U.S. National Aeronautical Space Administration (NASA), and the Soviet space program (now known as the Russian Federal Space Agency). What is even more impressive, however, is that this singular achievement also bestowed India with the designation of first nation in the world to successfully reach Mars on its first attempt.


Both Japan and China have tried to reach Mars, but both missions failed. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Nozomi mission, launched in July 1998, failed to establish Mars orbit after more than five years in route and incurring a total cost of $189 million. At the same time, a Chinese satellite launched aboard the Russian Federal Space Agency’s Phobos-Grunt failed to leave Earth orbit after its launch in November 2011.

NASA’s successful Maven mission to Mars launched just 13 days after MOM, arrived three days earlier, and cost $671 million (U.S.). In comparison, India spent just $74 million—making it the most affordable transit to Martian orbit.

This military and aerospace (mil/aero) geek joins myriad others in congratulating India and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) for all their achievements in aerospace, including more than 70 launches for domestic Indian programs and foreign partners.

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28 October, 2014

The global aerospace community is buzzing with news of emerging markets making technological advances and historical achievements. Among the nations making headlines is India.

Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) officials in Bangalore are racking up aerospace wins, which resulted in India being recognized as the first Asian nation to successfully send a satellite into orbit around Mars. India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) and technology demonstrator continues to make headlines.

MOM is one of the latest endeavors, and India’s contribution, to: learning more about Earth’s closest celestial neighbor, Mars. The MOM demonstrator entered into orbit around the Red Planet 298 days after launch—in late September 2014.

The MOM technology demonstrator generates power using solar panels; in fact, the solar panels effectively generate 840 watts of usable power, which is stored in the spacecraft’s bank of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries.


The Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN) handles MOM communications via a pair of 230-watt transponders coupled to an antenna array that consists of low-, mid-, and high-gain antennas. ISRO has partnered with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the South African National Space Agency to assist with telemetry, command and control, and tracking while the MOM space vehicle is not visible to the ISRO network. The IDSN is a system of large antennas and communications facilities in support of interplanetary spacecraft missions in India.

With this successful mission, India has established its place in history as the fourth nation to reach Mars orbit and, certainly more impressive, the first nation in the world to successfully reach Mars on its first attempt.

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30 September, 2014

NASA scientists finalized testing of the most complex rocket engine parts ever produced with 3D printers. Aerospace organizations are increasingly investigating the potential of additive manufacturing, using 3D printers to save time and money over traditional manufacturing processes.

The testing involved using the rocket engine parts to produce 20,000 pounds of thrust. A NASA spokesperson describes the test: “Designers created complex geometric flow patterns that allowed oxygen and hydrogen to swirl together before combusting at 1,400 pounds per square inch and temperatures up to 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit.”

NASA scientists credit additive manufacturing with delivering a wealth of benefits. “Having an in-house additive manufacturing capability allows us to look at test data, modify parts or the test stand based on the data, implement changes quickly, and get back to testing,” affirms Nicholas Cases, the NASA propulsion engineer responsible for leading the testing. “This speeds up the whole design, development, and testing process and allows us to try innovative designs with less risk and cost to projects.”

NASA officials are crediting additive manufacturing with helping engineers to design and produce small 3D printed parts quickly, to build and test a rocket injector with a unique design, to test faster and smarter, and to apply modifications to the test stand or the rocket component quickly.


To date, Marshall Space Flight Center officials say, NASA engineers have tested complex injectors, rocket nozzles, and other components. The end goal is to reduce the manufacturing complexity, time, and cost of building and assembling future engines. “Additive manufacturing is a key technology for enhancing rocket designs and enabling missions into deep space,” NASA officials say.

This geek is in love with this technology! Additive manufacturing with help relieve our dependence on foreign launch platforms since the retirement of the much missed Space Shuttle program.

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30 September, 2014

SpaceX this month logged its fifth successful mission to the International Space Station (ISS) and had a hand in yet another historic first: delivering the first 3D printer in space.

SpaceX launched its fifth journey to the ISS and fourth official Commercial Resupply (CRS) mission to the orbiting lab early this week, on Sunday, 21 September 2014 from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

SpaceX CRS-4 is the fourth of at least 12 missions to the ISS that SpaceX will fly for NASA under the CRS contract. The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft will remain at the ISS for four weeks, returning to Earth in mid-October for a parachute-assisted splashdown off the coast of southern California.

“Dragon is the only operational spacecraft capable of returning a significant amount of supplies back to Earth, including experiments,” according to a SpaceX spokesperson. “Under the CRS contract, SpaceX has restored an American capability to deliver and return significant amounts of cargo, including live plants and animals, to and from the orbiting laboratory.”

Dragon delivered more than 5,000 pounds of supplies and payloads, including materials to support 255 science and research investigations during Expeditions 41 and 42.

space trucker

This cargo mission includes a number of firsts. For the first time, Dragon carried live mammals (20 rodents) in NASA’s Rodent Research Facility, developed at NASA’s Ames Research Center to study the long-term effects of microgravity on mammalian physiology. SpaceX’s Dragon also delivered the 3-D Printing In Zero-G Technology Demonstration, the first 3D printer ever in space.

This geek loves SpaceX and their passion, drive, and innovation. They are making out of this world research possible.

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29 September, 2014

The Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 engine powered NASA’s Space Shuttle and will power the upcoming Space Launch System (SLS). The SLS is a heavy-lift, exploration-class rocket currently under development to take humans beyond Earth orbit and Mars.

NASA engineers recently produced the most complex rocket engine parts in the agency’s history using additive manufacturing, or 3D printing. Three-dimensional printers are a popular choice today for producing digital prototypes in a wealth of industry verticals, including a variety of computer graphics (CG) market segments, such as visual effects (VFX) and game development.

NASA engineers are using 3D printing to output final parts and components, not just prototypes. Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) will not only use 3D-printed parts, but also print parts and components as needed and on-demand with additive manufacturing; even so, NASA scientists needed to test 3D-printed parts thoroughly down here on Earth before deploying them in space.

3d print rocketdyne

“We wanted to go a step beyond just testing an injector and demonstrate how 3D printing could revolutionize rocket designs for increased system performance,” explains Chris Singer, director of the Engineering Directorate at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “The parts performed exceptionally well during the tests,” he reveals.

NASA officials anticipate that additive manufacturing will save both time and money—a significant amount of each, in fact. Using traditional manufacturing methods, engineers would need to manufacture and then assemble 163 individual parts; conversely, with 3D printing technology, only two parts were required, enabling engineers “to build parts that enhance rocket engine performance and are less prone to failure,” NASA officials say.

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