Earlier this month, NASA test-fired a shiny new rocket injector. A beautiful jet of flame erupted from the engine, signaling a successful test. But the real win wasn't the test itself, but rather the way the injector was created.
The process NASA used is called selective laser melting, and it's a seriously high-end form of 3D printing. During the printing process, high-powered laser beams are precisely calibrated to melt and fuse fine metallic powders into three dimensional shapes. The result is a very precise bit of machinery.
Not only is selective laser melting precise, it's gonna save NASA a whole lot of time and expense when compared to traditional manufacturing. What would normally be a year-long process is cut down to a comparatively short four months. And it costs just 30 percent of what it used to. Not bad for a space organization on a budget.
As far as what lies in store for NASA's future with selective laser melting, we'll leave that to Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for space technology in Washington, who states that "NASA recognizes that on Earth and potentially in space, additive manufacturing can be game-changing for new mission opportunities, significantly reducing production time and cost by 'printing' tools, engine parts or even entire spacecraft."
That makes it sounds like 3D printing will be stepping further into space exploration than ever before.