The innovative manufacturing technique is a forming process in which a disc of metal is revolved at controlled speeds on a machine similar to a lathe. Domack also described it similar to a record on a turntable, with the needle pushing down.
What makes it unique is that the spin forming process can create the complex crew module shape out of one piece of metal. A normal build would require several pieces of material being welded together into a capsule shape.
“The spin forming process results in fewer welds, which reduces the chances of defects, which makes the capsule safer for the astronauts,” Wagner said.
This manufacturing process is also considered “greener” in that it produces less waste.
Wagner said that when building the 60,000-pound (27,216 kg) external tank for the shuttle, fabricators started with 600,000 pounds (272,155 kg) of material. Roughly 90 percent of the material is machined away. The current Orion fabrication plan also requires lots of machining.
The spin forming process is considered near “net shape” which means the initial production of an item is very close to the final shape. Wagner thinks this manufacturing technique could appeal to NASA and commercial aerospace entities as they look for better ways to build spacecraft.
During a time when companies, including NASA, are looking at other lightweight materials such as composites to make crew capsules and other pieces of flight hardware, sometimes metal gets looked at as “old school.”
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