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NASA and Aerospace Industry Reaching “Warp Speed” in Drive for Advanced Manufacturing

October 23, 2015 | Category: Education

NASA and the aerospace industry have been pushing the boundaries of innovative, low-cost manufacturing processes, including metallic joining, additive and digital manufacturing and advanced composites. These advances, and the new business prospects they are driving, are the focus for SpaceCom (the Space Commerce Conference and Exposition), Nov. 17-19 in Houston. 

NASA and Aerospace Industry Reaching “Warp Speed” in Drive for Advanced Manufacturing

NASA and the aerospace industry have long been drivers of advanced manufacturing and innovation. The push to develop lighter, stronger materials and systems has been critical to NASA missions and commercial aerospace applications, and the foundation of many high-tech products. 

Over the last few decades, these efforts have led to increased application of high-strength composite structures in spacecraft, as well as commercial and military aircraft flying today. More recently, NASA and the aerospace industry have been pushing the boundaries of innovative, low-cost manufacturing processes, including metallic joining, additive and digital manufacturing, and advanced composites.

These advances, and the new business prospects they are driving, are the focus for SpaceCom (the Space Commerce Conference and Exposition), Nov. 17-19 in Houston. This conference provides a unique platform for the growing wave of cross-industry collaboration focused on accelerating and diversifying the impact and benefits of the new space age — in space and on Earth.

For instance, NASA is using additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D printing, to create a diverse portfolio of products from small satellites to rocket engine parts. A strong example of this is their use of selective laser melting to create complex parts for the J-2X and RS-25 rocket engines without welding. Selective laser melting saves time and greatly reduces the cost of creating component parts.

NASA is also adopting cutting-edge industrial techniques in space, where the International Space Station has a 3D printer that produced the first part in space in Nov. 2014, potentially ushering in a new age of off-Earth manufacturing in low-gravity environments. 

When it comes to exploration, NASA is looking at 3D printing of space habitats using materials found on other heavenly bodies. Regardless of where NASA goes next in deep space exploration, astronauts should be prepared to stay for longer periods of time. Transporting all the material and parts needed to build habitats would be very expensive. This type of 3D printing would allow astronauts to literally “live off the land.”

NASA technology also supports American manufacturing in many ways, and is helping to revitalize the nation’s manufacturing sector, according to a study by the Tauri Group. Specifically, the study found that NASA contributed $5 billion to the U.S. manufacturing industry in 2012. The development of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) alone had contributed about $930 million to the chemical, machinery, transportation equipment, fabricated metal, and computer and electronic product manufacturing sectors.

 “SpaceCom is focused on extending that deep knowledge base to the broader advanced manufacturing industry,” said James Causey, executive director of SpaceCom. “While many solutions to space-related problems have had a direct impact on Earth, the extent of technology transfer is yet to be fully exploited. SpaceCom will address this potential.”

The SpaceCom conference program will include an advanced manufacturing track, as well as an Advanced Manufacturing Roundtable where participants can help analyze case studies that can be applied to their business. 

The full conference program can be found at: http://www.spacecomexpo.com/