Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory are working with NASA to develop technology for a solar-powered rocket that could bring the exploration of interstellar space a step closer. To do this, the APL scientists are exploring how metal 3D printing could be utilized for the rocket’s heat shield. NASA and the APL have been working on concepts for the interstellar mission since 2019, and at the end of next year will present their research to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Heliophysics decadal survey, which decides the next decade’s sun-related science priorities. NASA has continually adopted 3D printing to create robust parts capable of withstanding the harsh environments of space, and has entered numerous recent partnerships to further the applications of this technology. NASA awarded Texas-based construction company ICON a contract to develop a 3D printed off-world construction system for the Moon. NASA has since developed 3D printed rocket engine components through its Rapid Analysis and Manufacturing Propulsion Technology project, which could play a part in the Artemis project to return astronauts to the moon. Most recently, NASA signed a cooperative agreement with ASTM International’s Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence which will see NASA identify potential 3D printing projects for the AM CoE to execute.

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