Engineers are getting better at printing complex metal objects using 3D printing. Building rocket engines for space launch has to be one of the more complex applications of the technology.
SpaceX launched its first 3D-printed part, the body of a main oxidizer valve, back in 2014, for example. And Blue Origin is incorporating 3D-printed components into its powerful BE-4 engine.
But one of the organizations with the most experience flying 3D-printed parts is Rocket Lab, based in New Zealand and the US. Founded by engineer Peter Beck in 2006, Rocket Lab is now leading the pack among small-satellite launch companies, thanks to its Electron rocket.
Six of the rockets have launched successfully so far—each equipped with nine Rutherford engines that are created primarily using metal 3D printing, as are a number of other elements on board.