The United Launch Alliance helps deliver food, supplies and scientific equipment to the astronauts aboard the International Space Station. In order to reach the ISS, ULA provides launch services, - including rockets that deliver the supplies - for NASA and the Department of Defense.
When an Atlas rocket took off from Florida this week, many of it's components were 3d printed using the high accessible form of 3d printing known as FDM. In this case, ULA turned to a global leader of 3d printing, Stratasys, for their production capabilities and a thermoplastic they use on high end 3d printers.
“Stratasys continues to be a great supplier to ULA, supporting our Atlas V and Delta IV launch vehicles. Our partnership has enabled Stratasys to bring parts such as tooling and support equipment into ULA’s factory in Decatur, Alabama to help us build rockets,” said Greg Arend, ULA manager, Additive Manufacturing.
Most of the 3d printed parts were for the rocket's ducting system in it's payload fairing, which provides durability for the spacecraft as it leaves the atmosphere.
This is all highly notable because if lightweight, durable, cost effective parts can be 3d printed for spacecraft launch, then businesses around the globe can feel more confident that end use parts for their goods can also be 3d printed.