Additive manufacturing is finding broad applications by NASA and its contractors for the fabrication of high-value, safety-critical components. AM of components for rocket engines and spacecraft thrusters is particularly advanced. Within NASA, technology development and demonstration efforts for AM of metals are being conducted primarily at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), Langley Research Center (LaRC), and Glenn Research Center (GRC). As an example, MSFC is pursuing AM of critical engine components for future heavy-lift space launch systems. GRC is collaborating with Aerojet Rocketdyne to develop a liquid-oxygen/gaseous hydrogen rocket injector assembly built by additive manufacturing. The inspection technology described in this proposal is aligned with the NASA Space Technology Roadmaps, and addresses needs described in the recent NASA memorandum "Nondestructive Evaluation of Additive Manufacturing." NASA's commercial space partners are actively involved in projects to incorporate AM components into their launch and spacecraft systems. For example, the SuperDraco engines for the SpaceX Dragon V2 manned spacecraft have 3D-printed combustion chambers that enable the engines to produce 100 times the thrust than the Draco engines in current unmanned versions of the Dragon. Eventual applications of AM will extend to production of replacement or repaired components in space.
Additive manufacturing is valuable for producing parts that are difficult or expensive to produce by machining or forging. Aside from space, industries that are adopting additive manufacturing include military and commercial aviation, automotive, medical/dental, and consumer products. Aircraft engine suppliers have been investing heavily in capacity for AM parts manufacturing. Key high-value components such as injection nozzles are found multiple times in a turbine engine. The use of AM will reduce engine weight and cost. Components designed with complex cooling channels that were expensive or even impossible to make can now be produced by AM. For NASA and non-NASA use, the introduction of in-line, real-time laser ultrasonic testing to characterize 3D-printed parts supports Executive Order 13329, "Encouraging Innovation in Manufacturing."