Arguments for an AM Alternative: What’s Old Is New Again

In 2018, aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Corp. made news with the announcement that it had completed a 46″ (1.16 m) diameter, high-pressure fuel tank comprised of two 3D-printed, dome-shaped end caps welded to a traditionally manufactured tubular vessel, all made of titanium. The decision to print the domes reportedly cut delivery time from two years to just three months.

Lockheed is far from alone. Launcher Inc. routinely prints tanks, combustion chambers and other rocket componentry, some from a proprietary copper, chromium and zirconium alloy. SpaceX 3D prints parts from similarly challenging materials for its Raptor engine, while NASA, Rocket Lab, Orbex and Ursa Major use metal additive manufacturing (AM) to produce everything from nose cones to engine nozzles. This March, Relativity Space one-upped all of them by sending the first entirely 3D-printed rocket into space.