If everything goes according to Elon Musk‘s ambitious plans, the Dragon space probe will already start ferrying its first private passengers to the moon in 2018. While it won‘t land directly on the lunar surface as the Apollo 17 mission did 46 years ago, it will at least trace a path around Earth’s natural satellite.

Musk‘s company SpaceX has already made history in the aerospace sector by developing a rocket stage capable of returning safely to Earth. Dragon’s planned trip to the moon would be another such breakthrough – one made possible by additive manufacturing.

The combustion chambers of its SuperDraco engines, for example, were produced using 3D printers from EOS before undergoing successful testing over the past two years. In the most recent trials conducted at the SpaceX development center in Texas, this propulsion system was successfully test-fired a total of 27 times.

AM has also helped SpaceX made its production activities more flexible and cost-effective in general. SuperDraco is the more advanced successor to the Draco engine, which is already enabling the Dragon cargo module to maneuver in space and when reentering Earth‘s atmosphere.

Before setting course for the moon, the second iteration of Dragon will depart for the International Space Station, and passengers will already be on board. This is to be the first of four Dragon V2 flights scheduled to launch each year. SpaceX’s plans to send a Dragon capsule to Mars in 2018 before the first voyage with humans will start as soon as 2024.

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