SpaceX has been taking cargo back and forth to the International Space Station since 2012, however the Dragon V1 they have been using is not human rated and can’t be reused. To solve these issues, CEO Elon Musk and his team have developed the Dragon V2, a reusable, human rated spaceship that comes with fully 3D printed rocket engines.
Just the other day the private space company announced they had completed qualification tests of the 3D printed SuperDraco thruster engine. The SuperDraco’s combustion chamber is printed via direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), which utilizes metal powder and a high powered laser to fuse metal particles together. SpaceX decided to make the chamber out of Inconel; a nickel-chromium alloy that is also used in SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Merlin rocket engines.
“Through 3D printing, robust and high-performing engine parts can be created at a fraction of the cost and time of traditional manufacturing methods,” says Elon Musk “SpaceX is pushing the boundaries of what additive manufacturing can do in the 21st century, ultimately making our vehicles more efficient, reliable and robust than ever before.”
The SuperDraco’s engines enable the Dragon V2 to land almost anywhere in the world, with helicopter-like accuracy. Each engine will supply around 16,000lbf of thrust, massive increase over the standard Draco’s 100lbf.
According to Musk, the Dragon V2 will make its first voyage with humans on-board in 2016. The engines and craft itself still have a long way to go before they are safe enough to handle human passengers.