When Perseverance arrives on Mars early next year, it will be the first landfall for a rover carrying 3D-printed metal parts and a small victory for proponents of the technique in the high-cost, high-risk world of the U.S. aerospace program.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, nestled in the foothills of La Cañada Flintridge, has seen a slow cultural shift over the last decade toward the adoption of 3D printing techniques, more formally known as "additive manufacturing," in spacecraft design. The technology uses lasers to melt metal powder that is layered to precise computer modeling, until that metal takes the shape of whatever engineers need.
For years, 3D printing has been relegated to the realm of nerdy hobbyists, but its adoption by startups and big business has helped push NASA leaders toward accepting more innovation despite the risks. These days, 3D printing has been used on airplane engines, houses, hearing aids, chocolates, Tesla car components and even a pair of Adidas shoes.
"I have seen a 3D printed burrito, and it didn't look as delicious as Chipotle," said Scott Roberts, a JPL materials technologist, with a laugh.
In the not so distant future, U.S. aerospace companies may build commercial space stations, apply for mining contracts in space and create a new economy on the moon — and eventually Mars, according to NASA's deputy administrator, who spoke to dot.LA earlier this month.
Jim Morhard, who was nominated by President Donald Trump in October 2018, doesn't have a space technology background but he does have an MBA, and it showed. In a wide-ranging interview after his first visit to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, Morhard talked about the administration's efforts to build up and support the space industry so that the government can step back and reap the benefits of private innovation. That effort includes setting up a legal framework for how countries should conduct themselves in space. Last week NASA and its international partners signed the accords. China and Russia were not signatories.
NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard's official portrait
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Beyond Limits, a Glendale, Calif.-based company that builds human-like reasoning into its artificial intelligence, has taken its tech from outer space onto factory floors and to hospitals.
Now as it seeks to expand its global footprint, the company said it raised $133 million in Series C funding. In addition to an expansion of its services, it hopes to build up its software platforms.
The round was led by Group 42, an artificial intelligence and cloud computing company in Abu Dhabi, and its longtime and ongoing partner bp ventures, an investment arm of the British energy group. Founded in 2014, Beyond Limits is based on technologies developed at Caltech and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and funded by NASA and the Department of Defense.