Out of This World

Arconic pushes the boundaries of 3D printing with parts for space exploration

Four small vents—each the size of a one-liter water bottle—represent one giant leap for deep space exploration, and aerospace manufacturing too. The vents are Arconic’s first additively-manufactured flying space products. We 3D printed the vents for Lockheed Martin for service on NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which will one day carry humans to Mars.

The components are designed to equilibrate the pressure between the inner and outer hull of the spacecraft. The original components were fabricated from several individual components and welded together. Our 3D printed, nickel superalloy versions take about 40 hours to produce versus weeks for the traditional manufacturing method.

“By partnering with Lockheed Martin on design, we optimized both process and performance,” said Don Larsen, Vice President and General Manager, R&D and Advanced Manufacturing at Arconic.

The vents made their inaugural space flight on Orion’s two-orbit, four-hour test flight in 2014, which evaluated many of the spacecraft’s most critical systems.  Orion reached a max altitude of 3,600 miles and re-entered the atmosphere at 20,000 mph with heat shield temperatures reaching 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean. The Arconic vents took the heat, showing no signs of damage on post-flight inspection.

Our products help open the many millions of miles between Earth and Mars for human exploration. We are proud to help Orion go the distance.