Did you know that the 3D printing concept dates back to 1945? Of course, it took a couple of decades for this concept to become a reality. The first forays into producing a true 3D printer began in the 1970s with Johannes F. Gottwald’s patent. The inventor experimented with melted wax, attempting to create a device capable of transforming liquified metal into a solid shape based on a printer’s movement across different layers.
Fast forward to today, and 3D printing has come a long way. It’s also been utilized to create some really weird stuff like unborn babies, other 3D printers, and even spy cameras. (It doesn’t get any more 007 than that!) And this past March, the 3D printing game went next level after the world’s first 3D-printed rocket completed its maiden voyage.
A Launch into the History Books
Let’s face it. There’s been a lot of strange news coming from space over the past few years. Whether we’re talking about SpaceX satellites raining down from the heavens or the role of hamsters in space tourism. Other fascinating stories include a space jellyfish swimming across the sky and space-aged wine selling for $1 million a bottle. And who doesn’t get a kick out of stories about mysterious space radio signals and potential aliens?
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But there haven’t been many stories combining 3D printing and space exploration as dramatically as the March 22nd launch of Terran 1. Terran 1 has already broken many impressive records. For starters, it’s the first methane-fueled rocket produced in the West to reach space. What’s more, it’s primarily a 3D printer creation!
Space Exploration Gamechanger
How much of the rocket did 3D printing produce? According to the company that manufactured it, Relativity, 3D printing accounts for 85 percent of the finished product. What else do you need to know about Terran 1? Stage one of the two-stage rocket includes nine Aeon engines. The second stage has an Aeon vac.
According to Relativity, Terran 1 represents just one portion of a much more rigorous path toward 3D printing success. They hope to one day reach the goal of manufacturing a rocket that’s 95 percent 3D printed. Terran 1 is nothing to sneeze at, though. Before launch, it came in at 110 feet tall and 7.5 feet wide. These stats alone make it the largest 3D-printed object on the planet.
A First of Its Kind Blast Off
Despite all the trail blazing, Terran 1 doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to things like its engine. In fact, all Relativity engines are 3D printed. They’re also powered by liquid natural gas and liquid oxygen, and Terran 1 is no different.
According to Relativity, these fuels “are not only the best for rocket propulsion, but also for reusability, and the easiest to eventually transition to methane on Mars.” Although 3D printing entire rockets sounds like the stuff of sci-fi movies, potential applications don’t end there.
For example, researchers hope to use 3D printing to surmount the logistical challenges of supplying the international space station with more than 7,000 pounds of spare parts each year. After all, as space exploration moves further from the planet, astronauts won’t have the luxury of supply delivery. But 3D printing what’s needed in space could solve this problem and then some.
How does 3D printing play with gravity? Materials Engineer Tracie Prater doesn’t see a problem, explaining, “Our current hypothesis based on work so far is that this particular 3D printing process is not affected in a significant way by microgravity.” That means a bright future for an odd couple, 3D printing and space exploration.
By Engrid Barnett, contributor for Ripleys.com