by Graham Pierrepoint
You’d be forgiven for thinking that space exploration has gotten a little bit less exciting in the past few decades. While we’ve continued to find out more and more fascinating titbits regarding the universe around us, it has been considerable years since we actively sent anyone into the stratosphere – beyond low orbit, anyway – as the Apollo 17 mission in 1972 saw our last foray to the Moon, just three years since we first visited there – since then, we’ve played it a little safer. Automated space exploration and landing rovers have given us exactly what we’ve needed in terms of reconnaissance missions to Mars and the like – though anyone concerned that human space exploration is dead in the water needn’t be worrying too much.
It’s thought that NASA are working on a new spacecraft which will, eventually, allow a human team to travel around Earth and the Moon in years to come. The craft, known as Orion, is thought to be bracing itself for an unmanned test flight at some point next year, with view to astronauts taking the helm ahead of what is projected to be 2023. What’s especially interesting about Orion is that it’s a craft completely built out of 3D printed parts – in the face of challenges engineers have met with regard to excessive temperatures and speeds. We’re looking at more than 25,000 mph on re-entry – you’re going to need a custom-built craft which will withstand everything that’s thrown at it.
Watch: ▶ NASA Plans to Have Astronauts Orbiting Moon by 2025
This has meant that NASA have turned to 3D printing to be able to source out materials which can withstand excessive speeds and temperatures. The plastic in use here is Antero 800NA, which is being used to help bolster Orion for both its unmanned and its eventual human-based flight in the years to come. This plastic is going to be specifically used to help bolster a part involved in the docking hatch – and it’s thought to be completely resistant to the likes of jet oil, making it something of a superplastic. Certainly, you won’t be able to use your run of the mill plastics in these crafts – they’ll melt within seconds!
NASA’s building of a 3D-printed craft is awe-inspiring – and it will be extraordinarily useful for astronauts aiming to travel out of our atmosphere and back again to Earth. Let’s hope Orion’s test flight is successful!