ULA will 3D print flight-ready components.
Rocket manufacturer United Launch Alliance (ULA) is set to fire a 3D printed component next year on board the Atlas V launch vehicle.
The updated Environmental Control System (ECS) duct will launch with a new 3D printed component produced on a Stratasys Fortus 900mc 3D production system. The ECS duct is critical to the countdown sequence of a launch, delivering nitrogen to sensitive electronic components within the rocket booster.
Significantly reducing the installation time and lowering part costs by 57%, the design for the ECS duct assembly which previously contained 140 parts, has now been consolidated to just 16 with FDM 3D printing.
ULA selected ULTEM 9085 FDM thermoplastic material to produce durable, high-performance end-use parts.
"ULTEM 9085 has great strength properties over a wide temperature range," said Greg Arend, Program Manager for Additive Manufacturing at ULA. "We have done testing to show that it is very capable of withstanding temperatures from cryogenic all the way up to extreme heat. And it's tough enough to handle the vibration and stress of lift off and flight. We're very satisfied with its performance."
United Launch Alliance has been at the forefront of America's presence in space for more than 50 years. Like other leading edge manufacturers using 3D printing, ULA progressed from prototyping to tooling and then to flight hardware production. ULA already has ambitious plans to increase the quantity of 3D printed parts to over 100 on the next generation rocket.
Arend, added; "We see somewhat of an exponential growth in the utility of 3D printing for flight applications on our current vehicles and we intend to use it heavily with our Vulcan rocket."