Author: Jason Brown | Machine Technician
Desert RATS (Research and Technology Studies) is a NASA team that according to NASA.gov, “evaluates technology, human-robotic systems and extravehicular equipment for future human exploration missions in space. The team runs simulated missions…to provide a knowledge base that helps scientists and engineers design, build, and operate better equipment, and establish requirements for operations and procedures.”
Their most recent work features a rover that is comparable in size to an SUV that has space for two people in its pressurized cabin. What is this vehicle for, exactly? Basically, testing the limits of human exploration to the red planet – our beloved Mars. Data is significant, but the eventual sending of physical bodies. For such learning, top-notch equipment is obviously a must. Rovers need to be strong enough to handle the rugged terrain of Mars yet still be light enough for space travel. When NASA reached the limits of traditional manufacturing processes, engineers turned to Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) – an additive manufacturing process – to get the results they needed.
By using the FDM additive manufacturing technology (3D printing), NASA was able to get a combination of lightweight yet durable parts that have an extremely fast turnaround on replacement parts. 3D printing also allowed engineers to achieve parts with specific geometries that would be next to impossible to machine. Contrary to popular belief, NASA does have a operating budget. With the affordability of additive manufacturing, little changes and development adjustments for final products like the rover can be done without “breaking the bank”. Though not every part on the rovers were 3D printed, many parts made of varying materials were first 3d printed for fit and function testing. From prototyping to end-use production, additive manufacturing played/plays a large role in design.
Materials used for this rover include PC (high performance plastic – polycarbonate), ABS (durable engineering grade plastic), and PC-ABS (strength of PC and flexibility of ABS), all of which are materials offered to you by GROWit. If our materials and services are good enough to withstand Mars terrain and conditions, we can likely handle anything else that’s thrown our way.