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3D Printed Engine Chamber Is Used on SpaceX’s First Crew Dragon Test Flight

Updated: Feb 24, 2023

SpaceX held a test flight in March where a ‘Crew Dragon’ capsule was launched using SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. The Crew Dragon capsule can carry up to 7 astronauts into orbit. Although the flight itself had no-one on board, it was deemed an important step in showing the viability of the system to NASA who will be its biggest customers in being a reliable and low-cost transport vehicle. SpaceX is currently contracted to perform an average of four Dragon capsule missions to the ISS per year, three carrying cargo and one carrying crew. One of the ways that SpaceX intends to keep costs down is to use 3D printing to make some of the key components on the capsule. The Dragon Crew capsule features eight SuperDraco engines which can maneuver the capsule in orbit and which can be used and an emergency escape system if something goes wrong during launch. The engines have a combustion chamber which was 3D printed in one piece using a superalloy called ‘Inconel’ made of Nickel and Iron, using an EOS metal 3D printer. The ability to 3D-print the complex part was key to achieving the low-mass objective of the engine, cut waste of the expensive alloy, reduce the overall cost of the engine and make the production process more flexible in general.

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