181: 3D Printing Our Way To Space – Paul Gradl Interview

Matt had a chance to interview Paul Gradl, principle engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, about the advances they’ve made with 3D printing rockets. Yes, Rockets. What this unlocks is kind of incredible.

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Hey everybody,

in today’s episode of still to be determined, we’re going to be talking about how we get into space utilizing 3d printing. And no, that doesn’t mean we have a 3d printer. That’s just creating a really, really big ladder. It’s far more complicated and actually a lot more interesting than that.

So who are we? Who’s going to be doing the chatting today? Well, it’s me. I’m Sean Ferrell. I’m a writer. I wrote some sci fi. I write some stuff for kids, including my most recently released The Sinister Secrets of Singe, available in bookstores everywhere. And of course, as always,

with me is my brother he is that Matt of Undecided with Matt Ferrell, which talks about emerging tech and its impact on our lives. Matt, how are you doing today?

Doing great. And just like the one of the last podcasts we did, still moving into the new house. So I’m exhausted, but things are good.

How about you? The, well, you

just said you’re doing great and you didn’t put great into air quotes.

So I’ll do it on your behalf in this episode and in the one from last week. And I say that right off the cuff, smooth as silk. Look at what a pro I am. We’re referring to last week’s episode. We’re actually recording these out of order. So we’re doing this episode first and last week’s was recorded after this.

So timey wimey stuff, but just throwing this out there. If my voice sounds, uh, more Barry whitish than normal, it’s because I’m dealing with. A summer cold, fingers crossed. It’s just a summer cold. I will be taking a COVID test later this afternoon. So good times all around, but for this episode, we are going to be sharing Matt’s long form interview with.

A gentleman from NASA whose name is Paul Gradl and Mr. Gradl is involved in the development of a new form of effectively a new form of building components of the rockets that get NASA into space utilizing 3D printing new materials and . Just a very, you think about the way we got into space in the sixties, compared to what is being done now, it really does feel like a bunch of people in a garage with a soldering iron, a little bit of an acetylene torch, and it’s kind of like building things with tubes and wires and like cobbling it together.

And some of the most fascinating and Awe inspiring activities that have taken place getting humans into space now seem about as safe as getting onto the Mayflower and crossing the Atlantic in the 1600s and saying like, Oh yeah, wind will get us there. Like, no, no. Stay

where you are.

Be safe. I’m really amazed at how we are now entering a phase of the development of this technology where it is impossible for me to wrap my head around what they are doing.

Because it is so much more advanced as opposed to in the 60s, where it was like, well, we’ve got this thing. It has enough thrust. It can go. And everybody’s like, yeah, got it. Got thrust. Yep. Now it’s new metals that have been developed by NASA. It’s using technology that is still relatively new, but seemingly everywhere all at once.

And it’s being done in. Timeframes. And you’ll get into this in your talk that are just mind blowing of you can print it. Try it. Not enough. Do it again. We’ll be back here next week. Maybe. I mean, like.

Really? I like your connection, your connection between the sixties and where we are now, I had the chance to go, I’ve had a tour through the vehicle assembly building down at, uh, Kennedy space center.

And it was a very kind of like almost religious moment for me walking into that building. Cause it is massive. It was like walking into a cathedral and just understanding the history of what happened in that building. It was like awe inspiring. And it’s like, to think about like, The sheer magnitude of how they had to work to manufacture this, basically a giant tube that they filled with explosive materials and then just lit it and ran away and hoped it went to space.

Now we have First they put people on the top. It feels like

That’s what’s most amazing. Do we have any volunteers? You three, get on there.

Get on top of that. Good luck. See you later. Who wants to go to the moon? And now we have And now we have what feels like a whole bunch of mad scientists in a room in a corner with like a little 3d printer to figure out, Hey, look what we can do, Bob.

We just created a better engine. I’m oversimplifying it grossly there, but it’s really inspiring to see how much, I don’t want to call it simpler, but it seems like we’ve kind of mastered the idea of just Little rocket science. And now we’ve come up with these new methodologies of how we can make it faster, iterate quicker, come up with new designs that make engines more efficient and new materials that make it all possible.

It’s really kind of crazy cool what NASA is doing with their research and the kind of the ground that they’re breaking kind of quietly in the background. It’s just kind of like this is happening and none of us really know it and it’s going to have a huge impact on all of us in the future.

And also because of the nature of NASA being a government program.

The things that they develop are made available to the public in ways that, like, these new materials are not proprietary, corporate owned elements. These are things that are being shared widely to improve competition in the marketplace, to increase pathways to getting where. Everybody wants to get. It’s remarkable.

So with that, we’re very happy to share, uh, Matt’s conversation with Paul Gradl, Principal Engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center to talk about the advances they’re having with 3D printing of rockets. Yes, you read that correctly, Sean. It’s 3D printing of rockets and the things that they are doing are really truly incredible.

So on to the conversation.

So thanks so much for Paul for being willing to speak to me today. Um, I was hoping to kind of kick things off with you just to find out just a little bit about yourself before we get into all the tech discussion. I’m curious, how did you end up where you are? Like, how did you end up at NASA doing what you’re doing?

Yeah, so

I’m a child of the, the shuttle area. So I grew up watching space shuttle launches, you know, and, and even Challenger disaster still resonates with me this day. Um, you know, so inspired by that, um, Just watch watching exploration and teachers and space and but I think eventually I knew that I was going to be an engineer of some sort and I remember for my 14th birthday.

I asked for CAD software. Um, I wanted AutoCAD. I wanted to learn how to go do CAD just because it fascinated me and I spent a lot of my free time doing that and eventually I landed a job as a draftsman. Uh, I didn’t even have my driver’s license, uh, in a local company that did plastic injection molding, and being there, I was fascinated by, I made these drawings and these models, and then we could create these parts, uh, from this, so, coming out of the experience and going into mechanical engineering school, I always thought I wanted to be in plastic injection molding, um, and really wasn’t exposed to aerospace, uh, as much, but after I did my, uh, bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, .

I wound into internship, with NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. And I think at that point I caught the space bug. And I figured out this is where I want to be. Um, but again, still very fascinated by the manufacturing, uh, side of things. And when I was at NASA Glenn, I got involved in a lot of 3D printing of plastics.

At that time, it was still used heavily for prototyping, right? We could go create a CAD model, go make these little prototypes, get them in our hands, and then eventually make the real model out of traditional manufacturing, uh, methods. But that always resonated and stuck with me on. You know, I think this might go somewhere, uh, someday, little did I know, here we are now, testing and building rockets and exploring deep space using additive manufacturing.

So about 2004, uh, when I moved to NASA Marshall, uh, Space Flight Center, the group that I’m in, we’re a component technology development group for liquid rocket engines, and we’re responsible for the entire Lifecycle of rocket components. Design, analysis, build, and test. And my focus has always been on the manufacturing side.

I’ve gone through a lot of the challenges of traditional manufacturing. Welding, brazing, machining, forging. Um, and we had an early printer. Uh, at Marshall there was a metal printer back in the early 2000s. Again, we used it more for prototypes, but saw the potential of that, that, you know, maybe one day we’ll build parts, uh, with this.

That was really more the early 2010s or so when we started getting serious, uh, about that and knowing that we could get the properties and the geometries that we wanted to go build rocket engine components. Yeah, I’ve

been, I’ve been becoming fascinated by additive manufacturing because it looks like it’s really going to be impacting.

Literally everything, because it’s changing how we can make things, but as I’ve been learning more and more when I came across what you’re doing at NASA with the additive manufacturing for rocket engines, that just kind of blew my mind that you were able to do that, and I know there’s been a lot of advancements and a lot of things that you’ve had to do to make that possible, and so could you kind of at a high level describe what is the, it’s called RAMPT, is that the project acronym?

Could you kind of describe what that is, what the project is at a high level? Yeah, so I

think, again, early 2010s is when we started looking at metal ads of manufacturing for use in rocket engines, and at the time we made a very simple duct Although it looked simple, it was difficult to manufacture. This 180 degree duct had a lot of tooling to traditionally manufacture and bend the tubes in there and weld on flanges, a lot of inspection.

So even this very simple part took 6 or 9 months to make. And at the time, there were very few metal machines available. Uh, we went with, with one of the vendors that had one of these machines and said here’s the part we’d like to go make, and we modified the design slightly for the additive, and we built this part, I think it was a week or so we built this part, and that all blew our minds, like wow, we spent Six or nine months before making this, and we just made this part in a week, and we tested the part on one of our, um, subscale, uh, test stands that we have here at Marshall, and it performs beautifully.

It didn’t fall apart, uh, and, and I think that sort of set the tone on, okay, this is real. We can make real parts from this. So NASA has had several projects, RAMP being one. The precursor to RAMP was actually called Uh, LCOSP, Low Cost Upper Stage Propulsion, and one of the items that we identified that really we could make use of additive manufacturing is combustion chambers, is a traditional combustion chamber, we start out with a 500 kilogram forging, we machine 90% of the material away, we slot all these channels in it, and then we braze a jacket to the outside of it to hold these high pressure coolants.

And, you know, sometimes those forgings would take three to six months to obtain the forgings, and maybe while it goes processing on that, which could easily take another six months. So we’re a year to make these combustion chambers. Under the LCOSP project, we developed the process for printing copper, which is not an easy feat.

We also did cladding of this, uh, super alloy nickel based structural jacket, uh, on it. And we did all that process development. In six to nine months, and we tested it, and it performed really nicely. Uh, but of course, when you go through these development projects, you learn, okay, here’s all the challenges and lessons, how can we go improve upon that?

So eventually, following the LCOSP program, uh, we established the RAMP program, which is Rapid Analysis and Manufacturing Propulsion Technology. And the purpose of R. A. M. P. was to go really large scale. The combustion chamber that we built under LCOSP. was about a 35, 000 pound thrust class. But some of the parts that we need for our applications are 8 feet in diameter and 10 feet tall.

And under R. A. M. P. we wanted to go of all this, uh, newer technology, it’s been around for a while but it hasn’t been used for small featured components like rocket nozzles, but it’s a laser powder directed energy deposition, and we worked with several vendors under these public private partnerships where NASA did a Cost share with them.

We invested 75%. They invested 25% on that to go evolve the processes and evolve the supply chain, um, under RAMP. And, you know, it’s a challenge to make these really large parts with these really small channels, uh, in there, but we have been successful at that. I think to date we’ve hot fire tested over 20 nozzles using the process.

Uh, it’s in use across the commercial supply chain. And, you know, that was one piece of RAMP other things that. Edited manufacturing has evolved is the use of other advanced manufacturing too. So for instance, under RAMP, we’re able to make these combustion chambers and these nozzles that are fully closed out, where we can contain very high pressures in these channels.

But with RAMP, we also wanted to go develop composite overwraps, too, for these extreme temperatures, because I can get a weight savings out of that. So, the evolution of additive manufacturing has also advanced some other manufacturing technologies, because we wouldn’t be able to use these composite overwraps, you know, for this weight reduction without the use of additive manufacturing.

Yeah, that’s the

part that I was having trouble wrapping my brain around, which is, you’re not, it’s not just, oh, we just advanced the machine that is able to do the printing, it was, you had to come up with the materials. To print, and then adjust the way it’s being printed, which kind of leads into you’ve talked about how you’re able to integrate the ductwork into the structure itself, which has a kind of a profound impact on the designs that you’re able to do.

I’m assuming you’re able to do designs that you wouldn’t be able to do any other way other than additive manufacturing by doing this. Is that correct? That’s

right, and additive manufacturing really offers a lot of advantages, and I guess before I get into that, I was like the caveat, don’t use additive manufacturing unless you have to, there are certain challenges that we can talk, um, later, but I think it’s You know, it’s easy to say Additive Manufacturing, I’m hearing all this stuff about it, it’s a cool new kid on the block, I want to go use it for everything.

Well, there’s still a lot of great manufacturing technologies, machining, that I can do much quicker for simpler parts and high production rates. So with Additive… Yes, we find that we can go do complexity that we’ve never been able to do before. And that means performance to us. I can go make these complex internal features.

Uh, I can do porous structures. Um, all kinds of complexity and channels, lattice structures for weight reduction. And that’s definitely on the design side. But the other thing that I think I’ve been fascinated with has been the material side of it too. Is we are able to make materials. that didn’t exist prior to additive, and in some cases they’re new families of materials, and some examples are GR COP 42, it’s a copper chrome niobium material that we use for high conductivity, high strength for rocket combustion chambers.

It was developed back in the 80s, uh, by Dave Ellis up at NASA Glenn Research Center, and it was traditionally manufactured. Um, the market for it just wasn’t there because it was so expensive to make and nobody wanted to take that on. Well with, with Additive, it simplified everything because it starts out as a powder and in Additive, we need a powder.

Um, so we’re able to evolve that material which has been used in a lot of development applications and even recently flown. Uh, earlier this year. And then we’re working some other new materials, these oxide dispersion strengthening materials. Uh, one example is GRX 810, also developed up at NASA Glenn Research Center, were able to go to extreme temperatures that some of these traditional materials couldn’t withstand.

And again, only enabled because additive manufacturing. So I think definitely design side of it, the material side of it, But then one thing that maybe I assumed in this discussion is the economic side of it is traditionally making combustion chambers, right, took six months, 12 months in some cases, assuming that I could get my forgings and, you know, machining goes well and my brazing and welding and everything goes well on that.

Well, with additive manufacturing, we’re able to get an order of magnitude or better in many cases on lead times. So parts that were taking me months or years to make, I can make in days and months now. And with that comes huge cost savings, right? Because a lot of the parts we work with, aerospace, nothing is cheap.

Everything from our large components to the fasteners and seals that we use are all specialty. So some of these components can be hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars. So even if I get a few percent cost savings on it, that’s huge. With additive… There’s many cases where we see 50% or greater cost savings.


I didn’t realize it was that big. Yeah. Cause I mean, I mean, we’re talking about the pros right now. We’ll get, we’ll get to some of the challenges in a second, but like in the pros, it sounds like you’re able to do designs you couldn’t do any other way. So you can get very complex. You’re reducing costs and lead time.

Uh, what other kind of pros would you call out about being able to do it this

way? I, I think there’s, you know, a new, unique designs that we can do. Not just in the complexity side of it, but now we can go locally add and change materials as needed. Um, as you look at some of these components, there’s some areas where I need high conductivity, other areas that I need high strength, um, other areas where I need corrosion resistance on that.

And with Additive, I can locally deposit these materials. Uh, certainly we could do that with traditional manufacturing, but that meant I was using joining operations and everything had to be leak free. Uh, Additive, you know, we have this unique opportunity there. Uh, to, to go build with new materials, combination of materials.

But with that, I think, you know, maybe this gets a little bit of the challenge I could see as a positive and negative, is we have to go train our workforce to do some of that. We need New thought processes for how we go about designing some of these parts, and I think there’s definitely a pro to that is because designers are not limited as much as they were before, like if you can go dream this up and actually produce the CAD model, Uh, for it, you can likely go print this.

I mean, within some print limitations, right? But now I just have this, this huge flexibility there. The con of that is I have to go train people, you know, to do that. And sometimes some of our visions in our head, you know, may be really difficult to get in the CAD software because they are so complex.


Yeah. So it’s, it’s, the challenge is kind of like, it’s so new. That there’s still not a lot of knowledge and experience out there yet around being able to perfect this stuff easily and quickly. There’s a learning curve, it sounds like. That’s

right, and with this, you know, we’ve sort of shattered some of the traditional roles in design and manufacturing.

Where… Traditionally, I’d have a design engineer that would hand the design off to an analyst to go look at the structures and the thermal and a lot of the detailed engineering disciplines, and now we hand it off to a manufacturing engineer and they hand it off to a quality engineer, you know, at some point you get materials involved in that.

With Additive, a lot of those roles had combined because my design engineer is creating the model of which is being used for manufacturing later. So, We like to train a lot of our design engineers now in Metalurgy. They need to understand that if I have thick portions and thin portions of the part, the microstructure is going to be different.

They need to understand, you know, the thermophysical properties of additive parts, and, you know, mechanical properties are different. We can’t just assume that they’re wrought properties or past properties, um, on that. Like you just mentioned, that yes, it is new, there’s a lot of learning that we have to do, and it comes from not just the design side, but the material side, the analysis side, you know, the build side of it, because now I have to control every aspect of that, the parameters that I’m using to build, the feedstock, whether it be powder or wire, And the post processing side of it too, because I think one thing that’s often overlooked in additive manufacturing is I go build this part in two days, awesome, now what do I do with it?

And in most cases, I can’t just take that part and plug it directly in my assembly, I need to go remove powder, I need to do heat treatment, I need to do final machining on that part. So even though a part may have taken me… Two or three days to build, I might have several weeks or several months of post processing.

And I think there’s a lot of stuff that’s overlooked, you know, in that process that we tend to oversimplify and, you know, we use our, uh, our desktop printers and off pops the part and… We hold it in our hand. With metal parts, it’s a lot different.

Well, that actually raises a question for me because like on home 3D printers, there’s a problem where like you’re building a large part and it may kind of warp and deform as it’s printing because of the way it’s heating and cooling and it’s not doing it evenly.

Do you run into problems like that printing large rocket parts? Do you have to account for how something might be shifting or warping as it’s being printed?

Absolutely. When we’re working with metal, really it’s a micro welding process, and with welding, you’re always going to have distortion and residual stresses in there, so any of the metal additive manufactured parts that we’re making, yes, we have tremendous amounts of residual stresses, and in some cases, We have to adjust the designs for the print operation.

We have designed some parts, and we’ve printed them, and they have actually separated from the build plate, or we have huge cracks in there from these residual stresses. So, one area that is advancing, uh, in additive manufacturing is the simulation of some of these parts. As we can take the CAD model, And we can go simulate different build toolpaths on it and, you know, the heating and the cooling that it’s going to see and figure out, maybe is there a better way to build this by adjusting my toolpath, maybe there’s a different orientation, or maybe I just need to redesign some of the parts.

Um, now the advantage of Additive is I can go through some of those iterations quickly. It might take me a few days to build a part and you say, That failed, you know, we, we had too many residual stresses in there, let’s redesign it, and we can go back to the printer a week later, uh, on that, but I think a lot of the stuff you see on your home based plastic printers, we definitely experience those challenges probably in order of magnitude more, you know, even when it comes to support structures, right?

We have to figure out the best way to do support structures and the best orientation for these parts. We still have to adhere to some of the, What we call Design for Additive Manufacturing, D. A. M. rules, where there’s certain build orientations, certain angles, uh, that I need to, uh, you know, adhere to, uh, in that, uh, there’s, um, you know, even like build plates, uh, locations where I may have challenges, uh, on that build plate design, you know, that’s something that is definitely, we take into consideration.

. And one thing that I think is also worth noting that I’ve sort of generalized metal additive manufacturing, uh, in, in this discussion so far, but there’s really more than 10 metal additive manufacturing processes. And each one of them is very unique. They all exist because there’s a need for them.

Some of them are really high deposition rates, but low resolution. Others are really fine resolution, but low deposition rates. So… They complement all of each other well, and we use all of that. There’s not just one particular process.

So if we’ve talked about, like, there’s cost benefits, there’s iteration benefits, there’s all these benefits we talked about before.

The actual, like, rocket engine itself that you might print, what kind of benefits are you seeing from performance by, versus a traditionally built design?

Well, I think one of the things that, that really sticks out to me, is the iterations of the design and again, this is probably overlooked in the early days of additive manufacturing.

So we’re thinking, Oh, we want to go make these parts for production, but now we’re able to make very early rapid prototypes of these that we can go test and I can do this in a matter of weeks. I can change my design and I can be back in the test stand in a couple of weeks. That has radically changed how we’re doing things.

Traditionally, it would take me nine months to a year. I would build one combustion chamber, one injector. If something went wrong, I would have to delay my test program. So we were a year, two years for some of these test programs. Now I can go into a test program in a matter of weeks, and again, make those design changes.

We call this the design fail fix cycle. Go design it, go build it, put it in the test stand. Things don’t always go as planned. Sometimes they go horribly wrong. Um, we have failed parts on the test stand, but I can learn from those and I can make these quick design iterations. And again, it’s not uncommon that we’re doing these in a matter of weeks.

And I think one thing where this has really become apparent, uh, which is, you know, really fascinating for me is how we’re training the new workforce with that as well for rocket applications. You see a lot of… University rocket teams that are now design, building, and testing small rocket engines because of additive manufacturing.

So now all these students have hands on experience. So when they’re going to commercial space or coming to NASA, they have done this. They have gone through the trials and tribulations of testing and actually brought their designs to life. So I think that’s definitely one of the advantages. Uh, of this, but we also find other advantages too in specialty tooling, you know, sometimes we need certain fixtures for our test stand that may be difficult to machine or long lead on that, and I can go print, um, some of these, you know, performance side of it.

Again, we can go make unique designs that we couldn’t, uh, produce before that has complex internal passages or unique injector patterns to increase the performance. Um, and then, um, You know, one thing that, that I mentioned earlier about with the complexity and the novel materials has actually brought about new propulsion concepts.

One of the programs we’re working on right now is rotating detonation rocket engines. And these were conceptualized. Forty years ago, but we really didn’t have the technology to bring the, to make these real, to actually go build these, but now that we can go build these complex passages, and we can use novel materials like GRCOP 42 and GRX 810, we have tested some rotating detonation rocket engines, we got a hundred seconds on one of these demonstrator engines, we have a ongoing program that we’re going to do larger thrust classes now with these engines we get a 30 percent performance improvement 20 to 30 percent over traditional engines which is you know fantastic because i remember back in you know shuttle days and some of the other development programs we would chase after a half percent or one percent performance improvement which was huge and now you’re talking in order of magnitude more than that so EDSID manufacturing is definitely changing the way that we can…

You know, think about some of these advanced propulsion concepts, too.

I mean, that ties right back into what we were saying before. It not only lowers costs for the iteration and production of these designs, but you’re creating engines. Like you mentioned, we knew how to do, we knew what it was 40 years ago, but we couldn’t do it.

And now we can do it. And with those gains, it means less rocket fuel to get a rocket into space, which also reduces the cost of sending something into space. So it’s like all these things kind of add up to potential. Great cost reductions for space exploration.

Absolutely. And I think that’s something that propagates.

Um, you know, the, the butterfly effect in a sense that we do these developments and you see them spread across industry and we see other adoption in energy and oil and gas with some of these novel materials that we’re developing, um, which is one of the goals of NASA too, right? We want to, we want to go take on some of this research and development that, that companies may not be.

Doing and try to infuse these into commercial apps applications. Of course, we’re focused on the aerospace sector. Um, and I wanna backtrack a little bit that I do think on the aerospace side, particularly in the launch vehicle industry, that additive manufacturing has absolutely enabled that, which in turn enables.

More launches, more satellites, you know, low Earth orbit access, and then deep space exploration from just these new technologies, because there’s a lot of companies that have either been established or have evolved because of additive manufacturing. They now have access to make combustion chambers and injectors and these rocket engines that were specially manufacturing processes 20 years ago that only, you know, two or three companies could do.

So, you know, from that, we see this propagation across the industry of now there are all these launch companies, um, you know, that are able to, again, launch new satellites and, um, you know, we have ferry flights now to the International Space Station, um, some of that is enabled by additive manufacturing and again, when we look at deep space exploration, where we’re going to go back to the moon and set up a permanent presence there and then eventually, Go on to Mars, that will be enabled by additive manufacturing and not just on the propulsion side, lunar habitats and Martian habitats and you know, some of the infrastructure will definitely be additively manufactured, uh, on that.

So it’s, uh, you know, as much as, uh, I like to think about this stuff, it hurts your head a little bit too, because there’s so many opportunities out there and of course you want to work at all, but

there’s always so much time. That’s definitely one of the things I wanted to hit on with you because you kind of already touched on it a couple times, but like, you’ve mentioned universities, you’ve mentioned private industry, NASA isn’t doing this just for NASA, NASA is working as a partner with private industry and colleges and universities to try to kind of unlock new paths beyond what you’re doing day to day.

Could you kind of talk a little bit about that, about how that relationship works with universities and the private industry? Yeah,

absolutely. So we’re taxpayer funded, right? So we work for the American people and really the world too. I think that is one of the exciting roles about working at NASA is we inspire, is we inspire university students.

We inspire companies, you know, we inspire the average person too. And I don’t take that lightly by any means that I think about every day with this. I think from an ads and manufacturing perspective, yes, we partner with research institutions, we partner with universities and academia, we partner with industry, and each one of them play a very unique role.

There’s a lot of projects and research that we want to do that we may not have bandwidth to do, um, so we set these up as student projects, and we have undergraduates and masters and PhDs involved in some of the fundamental material science and establishing material properties and publishing a lot of this data, and those students are also exposed to, again, real world NASA problems.

We give them a Here’s the challenge we have, you know, here’s the time period that we’d like to go solve this in. Uh, I sit down with a lot of students, probably every two weeks or so, and we get updates, uh, from them. So, you know, they’re not just working on busy work. We are using all that data. So, we’re training the next generation through the universities, and they’re supplying a lot of critical data for our projects.

Another unique role of NASA is we get to see Everything that’s going on across the industry, so we get to see all, work with all the commercial space companies, a lot of the specialty manufacturing, uh, companies, so we get to see the challenges, and usually when I start to see two or three companies have the same problem, we say, okay, let’s go establish a project around this, let’s go stand up the ramps project, or another project, because this is an issue that we see, and one of the goals of companies are to Build their hardware, launch vehicles, and create revenue, right?

You have to exist as a company by creating revenue. So R& D may not necessarily be real high in their portfolio. NASA can take on that R& D and we can engage universities. And ultimately our goal is to be able to set up commercial supply chains for this, is if we develop some unique process at NASA, great, but I want to be able to show a infusion to industry and make it accessible so that we can go buy parts, um, or processes from these companies, but universities can, other commercial space companies and aerospace companies, oil, gas, energy, they can all use these materials, these processes.

Um, so again, I think that’s something that we think about a lot in terms of, you know, what is the value that the taxpayers are getting, uh, out of this? And, and I think it’s tremendous because we’re doing a lot of development that we see, you know, 5, 10, 20 fold returns on investments, uh, with the commercial space sector.

And, you know, I think it’s a really great role for us because we can, we can dig it, right? We understand the challenges of space flight and the requirements. And we’re going to go about this methodically, you know, we can train students, you know, on that thought process too, the systems engineering and, and how you establish these, these big projects and the little pieces that fit into that.

And as a manufacturing there, you alluded to this earlier, there is so much to do here. So trying to pull together all these pieces of the puzzle, you know, it’s certainly challenging, but I think we’re chipping away slowly, um, at that through these public private partnerships and with, You know, different grants and funding that NASA has provided, as well as getting our hands dirty, too.

We want to be involved in the work. We don’t want to just be handing off a contract and say, Okay, send us your results when you’re done. We need to understand the processes and how we go about doing that. Because another side of NASA, too, is, you know, not just being a player in the game, um, but we’re also helping to be the…

The commissioner of the, the team of sorts, right? Right. We are setting some of the rules in industry in terms of standards and certification and if we’re going to do that and establish those rules, we need to understand the details of it. So NASA has taken on a lot of rules as well in terms of certification.

Um, we’ve developed some very extensive documents for how do you certify. Additively manufactured parts for human spaceflight, right? First and foremost, if anything we do is our astronauts have to be safe. So by establishing some of that methodology and that criteria, um, you know, we’ve put a baseline out there saying industry, here’s, here’s the guidelines that you need to adhere to.

Well, you’ve already kind of semi touched on this already, but one of my final questions I had for you was. Why should the average Joe on the street care about the work that NASA’s doing around additive manufacturing, the rocket designs, the new materials that have been developed? Why should just the average Joe care, like why, like, you’ve already kind of somewhat touched on it, so it’s a little bit of a leading question, but I do have, I’m curious what your take is on


I think there’s a lot of reasons. I, I’d say one, what I said earlier is we inspire, right? Humans want to explore. We wanna go back to the moon. Set up a permanent presence there, go to Mars, and, you know, understand, you know, our, our solar system, and NASA, you know, has continuously inspired, and it doesn’t matter where you’re from, around the world, you know, who you are, I think you look at some of these images from James Webb Space Telescope, or you watch a launch, everybody just sort of gets that moment of,

peace that you can you know, wonder what is out there. So I think that is one of the roles that NASA plays in all this. I think when we dig down further to explore, we have to lower the cost of exploration. And additive manufacturing certainly helps with that. But then there’s all these spinoffs that we don’t even know sometimes until we get into it.

When we develop a new material for a… specific application on a rocket engine and then we get contacted by oil and gas and energy industry saying this material will help me increase performance a lot. You know, those are spin offs that we never planned for but definitely are exciting. And I think we have dozens of examples of things like that across things that NASA has…

Developed because of our specific needs. And then, you know, 20 or 30 years later, you see, okay, we have microelectronics because of some of the work on the Apollo program and we have yeah, you know, cell phones because of some of the communication, um, developments and we have new materials that now spread across the energy sector, which decrease energy costs.

So I think those are a lot of the side benefits, uh, that. You know, taxpayers and the average person may not necessarily realize. I think they look at, you know, will, we put all this money into NASA and, if you look at it from the overall government budget, we’re a very, very small piece of that because the return on investment is, is huge.

And I think we can’t necessarily put a price on You know, the dreams and the inspiration of looking at these fantastic images from James Webb and, you know, just allowing kids to, you know, dream of they want to explore space and they want to, you know, be an astronaut, uh, one day because from that, you know, whether they become astronauts or not, we’re probably going to end up with a whole bunch of new engineers that are going to engineer new launch vehicles or, uh, You know, other critical products that we’re going to need to move forward, you know, in society.

So I think there’s a lot of, uh, benefits that we just, we don’t necessarily realize. It’s like planting

a seed and watching it grow into something new and exciting and unexpected. It’s like you’re, you’re, the inspiration, I think, is a great way to put that. It’s, it’s, it’s a seed of inspiration that you’re, you’re working on.

So that kind of covers all the major topics I was hoping to cover with you. Is, is there anything else that you’d want to touch on?

No, I think again with, with NASA, you know, we’re publicly funded, right? So a lot of the data that we’re producing, we’re trying to get it out to industry and academia and make it available.

Uh, you know, we encourage those conversations and collaborations and public private partnerships and, you know, we’re always happy to talk additive manufacturing and, uh, and geek out on it. Yeah,

I love geeking out on this stuff. It’s, it’s so fascinating. Uh, so thank you so much for joining me, Paul. This has been fantastic.

Thank you so much for having me. Our

thanks to Paul Gradl for taking the time to talk to Matt and our thanks to all of you for checking out this conversation. And as always, we invite everybody to jump into the comments and let us know what you think. Do you have any follow up questions for Mr. Gradl that Matt didn’t get to?

Do you have any questions for Matt about what it was like to talk to him or about what the future may hold? Matt may have some further insights beyond. This conversation. So please jump into the comments and let us know. As always, your comments are a huge part of the program. We appreciate your taking the time to watch and also to give us the feedback on each episode and help us steer the ship a little bit and take us in a new territory.

So please do jump into the comments. So Matt, with your impending move, which is the reason why we are Recording the way we are right now. It looks like your calendar will be kind of cleared once you move into your new place. And we should anticipate a new video in the last week of August from the Undecided channel.

In the meantime, you’ve got us here. You can jump into the comments on our episodes here. And Matt, What do you have coming up upon your return, what are you going to be talking about?

Oh, there’s a lot of different videos we got in the works right now. There’s some about a mistake I made on my. New home kind of decision that’s been having kind of a ripple effect of like, oh, crap.

Um, there’s another video about, uh, solar’s meteoric rise and how everybody, whether you were for solar or against solar, everybody’s predictions of how it would perform by this point in history, we’re all wrong. Um, and it’s kind of a fascinating how, like, even the people that are the biggest proponents of solar, Completely got their estimates wrong. Um, so I, there’s a video diving into all that

that sounds really interesting and I am really curious about what the insight is. But we won’t ruin the point of the video here. So , we’ll wait for that one to drop. Thank you everybody. Yeah. For. Checking us out. And don’t forget if you’d like to support the show, please consider reviewing us on YouTube, Apple, Spotify, Google, wherever it was.

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