NASA and the aerospace industry have long been drivers of advanced manufacturing and innovation. The push to develop lighter, stronger materials and systems has been critical to NASA missions and commercial aerospace applications, and the foundation of many high-tech products.

Over the last few decades, these efforts have led to increased application of high-strength composite structures in spacecraft, as well as commercial and military aircraft flying today.

More recently, NASA and the aerospace industry have been pushing the boundaries of innovative, low-cost manufacturing processes, including metallic joining, additive and digital manufacturing, and advanced composites.

These advances, and the new business prospects they are driving, are the focus for SpaceCom (the Space Commerce Conference and Exposition), November 17-19 in Houston, Texas.

Focus on Impact, Benefits of New Space Age

SpaceCom provides a unique platform for the growing wave of cross-industry collaboration focused on accelerating and diversifying the impact and benefits of the new space age – in space and on Earth.

The conference will include an advanced manufacturing track, hosted by AEM, as well as an Advanced Manufacturing Roundtable where participants can help analyze case studies that can be applied to their business.

In one such study, NASA is using additive manufacturing (more commonly known as 3D printing) to create a diverse portfolio of products from small satellites to rocket engine parts.

A strong example of this is their use of selective laser melting to create complex parts for the J-2X and RS-25 rocket engines without welding. Selective laser melting saves time and greatly reduces the cost of creating component parts.

Allowing Astronauts to ‘Live Off the Land’

NASA is also adopting cutting-edge industrial techniques in space. Last November, the International Space Station used a 3D printer to produce the first part in space, potentially ushering in a new age of off-Earth manufacturing in low-gravity environments.

What they learned could benefit future exploration efforts.

For example, NASA is looking at 3D printing of space habitats using materials found on other heavenly bodies. Transporting all the material and parts needed to build such habitats would be very expensive. However, use of 3D printing using existing materials would allow astronauts to literally “live off the land.”

Technology Transfer Not Fully Exploited

NASA technology also supports American manufacturing in many ways, and is helping to revitalize the nation’s manufacturing sector, according to a study by the Tauri Group.

Specifically, the study found that NASA contributed $5 billion to U.S. manufacturing industry in 2012. The development of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) alone had contributed about $930 million to the chemical, machinery, transportation equipment, fabricated metal, and computer and electronic product manufacturing sectors.

“SpaceCom is focused on extending that deep knowledge base to the broader advanced manufacturing industry,” said James Causey, executive director of SpaceCom. “While many solutions to space-related problems have had a direct impact on Earth, the extent of technology transfer is yet to be fully exploited. SpaceCom will address this potential.”

The full conference program can be found at: