Given NASA's unique needs for highly customized spacecraft and instrument components, additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing, offers a compelling alternative to more traditional manufacturing approaches.

"We're not driving the additive manufacturing train; industry is," said Ted Swanson, the assistant chief for technology for the Mechanical Systems Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Swanson is the center's point-of-contact for additive manufacturing. "But NASA has the ability to get on-board to leverage it for our unique needs."

Led by NASA's Space Technology Mission Direc­torate, the agency has launched a number of formal programs to prototype new tools for current and future missions using this emerging manufacturing technique. Additive manufacturing involves computer-aided device, or CAD, models and sophisticated printers that literally deposit successive layers of metal, plastic or some other material until they are complete.


Also: Learn about Gradient Metal Alloys Fabricated Using Additive Manufacturing.