An Atlas V rocket, designed and built by United Launch Alliance (ULA), took off from Cape Canaveral’s Air Force Station with production parts that were 3D printed using Stratasys FDM technology. The rocket has launched Orbital ATK’s Cygnus™ spacecraft on the first part of its cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
“Stratasys continues to be a great supplier to ULA, supporting our Atlas V and Delta IV launch vehicles,” said Greg Arend, ULA’s manager for additive manufacturing. The plans to incorporate Stratasys 3D printed parts into the rocket were announced nearly one year ago. ULA’s facility in Decatur, Alabama, built the rocket from the ground up and relied on Stratasys’ Fortus 900mc Production 3D Printer to create everything from tooling and support equipment to production parts. The presence of 3D printed parts on the Atlas V emphasized the ability of highly durable, specialized thermoplastics to replace metal components.
Several components of the Atlas V environmental control system’s ducting in the payload fairing were 3D printed. ULA’s established aerospace expertise, combined with Stratasys’ additive manufacturing technology, created a great environment for manufacturing these parts while saving $1 million annually (source IBT, April 2015), as compared to traditional manufacturing methods. The design flexibility and unique material properties helped to optimize parts that can withstand the harsh conditions at launch.
A Material Ready for Space
The 3D printed parts for the Atlas V included brackets, nozzles and panel close-outs. ULA elected to produce the parts for the rocket’s ducting using ULTEM™ 9085, an FDM thermoplastic material known to be a good match for the demands of aerospace applications because of its high strength-to-weight ratio and thermal properties.
“It’s been impressive to see how ULA has innovated with industrial 3D printing, and we are excited to continue working with them to push the technology further,” said Scott Sevcik, Director, Business Development – Aerospace & Defense, Stratasys. Download our White Paper on “Additive Manufacturing Trends in Aerospace.”
Stratasys and Fortus are registered trademarks of Stratasys Ltd. and/or its subsidiaries or affiliates. ULTEM is a registered trademark of SABIC or its affiliates or subsidiaries. Atlas V is a trademark of United Launch Alliance.