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Oak Ridge National Laboratory & NASA, 3D-printed lunar rover Wheel based on a NASA design

By Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Industry: Prototyping Technology: Laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) Material: Nickel-based alloy Machine: Industrial partner printer
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Oak Ridge National Laboratory & NASA, 3D-printed lunar rover Wheel based on a NASA design

Unveiling the future of lunar exploration: 3D-printed rover wheel, engineered for unparalleled durability and performance on extraterrestrial terrain.



                        

Description

The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in collaboration with NASA, leveraged additive manufacturing to 3D print a wheel akin to those utilized in NASA's robotic lunar rover. This initiative underscores a pivotal partnership between Oak Ridge National Laboratory and NASA, harnessing cutting-edge manufacturing techniques to advance space exploration endeavors. This innovative approach has culminated in the creation of an additively manufactured wheel modeled after the lightweight wheels employed in NASA's Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER). Although the wheel prototype manufactured at Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) is not destined for deployment in the NASA Moon mission, it adheres meticulously to the exacting design specifications of the wheels designated for VIPER. Scheduled for deployment to the moon's south pole in 2024, VIPER represents a pioneering mission aimed at mapping ice deposits and identifying potential resources crucial for sustaining human presence on the lunar surface. By probing the origin and distribution of water on the moon, this mission could help determine how the Moon's resources can be harvested for future space exploration. The prototype wheel is larger than typical wheels made with metal powder bed systems. It measures about 8 inches wide and 20 inches in diameter. Additive manufacturing made it possible to print intricate geometric features across a large work area. Despite the increased complexity in design, additive manufacturing streamlined the wheel's construction process, simplifying assembly while enabling intricate spoke patterns and spoke locking features. However, due to the constraints of the specialized printer, which exclusively accommodates certain materials such as the nickel-based alloy utilized in this instance, the 3D-printed wheel weighs 50% more than its aluminum counterpart from the VIPER rover, despite being printed at a similar thickness.

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