A printed spaceship actually making it to space on what would be the longest manned space mission ever? Not entirely correct, but not that far from the truth. Nasa have announced that they hope to conduct the longest man mission into space sometime in 2023, with their space craft, Orion. The program has hopes that it will pave the way for future journeys to Mars, and beyond.
As incredible as it may seem, humans haven’t left our atmosphere since 1978, when the Apollo 17 took to the stars, and Eugene Cernan became the last man to step on the moon. Since then, countless probes have been shot into the abyss to record, survey and collect all types of data. Although impressive, half a century is too long not to have had humanity meddle with space.
The Orion is already redefining space travel and it hasn’t even left yet. It will be the first space craft to have over 100 plastic parts, printed by a 3D printer. It will also be launched off the most powerful rocket ever, a mighty machine that is capable of producing 5 million kilograms of thrust. And therein lies the revolutionising nature of this programme. Nasa scientists have had to come up with a machine that can withstand speeds of up 25,000 mph, and temperatures of 2,500 degrees Celsius on re-entering our atmosphere. Nasa’s normal go to material’s (not that you would consider it ‘normal’) melting point is too low for what the Orion will be put through. It also releases gas slowly over time, which would in turn render a lot of key components useless as it would condense onto solar cells or other spacecraft elements.
3D printing company, Stratsys, had to turn to different materials to avoid the above happening. After many trails and errors, they settled on a new plastic, Antero 800NA. This can withstand the extreme conditions that The Orion will endure on re-entry. It can withstand the temperature, and the colossal amount of force where all other plastics would fail.
This thermoplastic will be situated just outside Orion’s docking hatch; a part that would be made up off 6 individually printed parts. This hatch will primarily be used as a way for astronauts to pass between the Orion and larger habitual modules on long duration deep space missions.
It feels bizarre to write about ‘deep space missions’, like I’m plagiarizing Star Trek, but after the initial mission in 2023, that is the hope. Nasa, scientists and general public alike have been talking more and more about an eventual migration to Mars after Earth becomes inhabitable. Although I personally think that is a stretch, I do believe that the human race will slowly edge father and father out into the endless chasm of space, and the Orion will be the catalyst for this epic exploration.