The rocket that blasted into space from New Zealand on May 25 was special, as it is the first to be powered by an engine made almost entirely using 3D printing.
Members of the team behind the Electron rocket at US company RocketLab said the engine was printed in 24 hours adding that 3D printing proved to offer three interesting capabilities over traditional manufacturing techniques:
1) The ability to produce highly complicated shapes. For example, lattice structures produced in exactly the right way so that they weigh less but are just as strong as similar solid components. This creates the opportunity to produce optimised, lightweight parts that were previously impossible to manufacture economically or efficiently with traditional techniques.
2) The ability to work best for the production of relatively small, intricate parts rather than large, simple structures, where the higher material and processing costs would outweigh any advantage.
3) The ability to produce whole systems in one go rather than from lots of assembled parts. For example, NASA used it to reduce the components in one of its rocket injectors from 115 to just two.