The F-1 Engine was originally used in the Apollo Program to launch Saturn V rockets into orbit. Now, forty years after the official retirement of the engine NASA has decided to resurrect it and include it in the new Space Launch Systems (SLS) program. The process proved to be more complex than they originally anticipated; the blueprints on file for the F-1 were not accurate. Somewhere between the initial design and manufacturing stages the rocket had been updated but their files had not.

To solve the problem NASA partnered with engineers from ShapeFidelity, a 3D scanning solutions service out of Alabama. "It was evident from the start that 3D scanning and imaging were a requirement of this job," stated Rob Black of ShapeFidelity. "While the mission was clear, the magnitude of the project was huge and not easy to estimate. We weren't sure how many parts were involved, or if it was even possible, and the fear was that once the engine was dismantled, we would have no way to reassemble it."

All told, the F-1 included more than 400 parts, not counting all the bolts and fasteners. Since they didn't have an accurate blueprint detailing how things fit together, the team used Geomagic Solutions software for reverse engineering then combined that with an ATOS Triple Scan and a TRITOP system to produce an Outer Mold Line (OML) model of the entire engine. Next they painstakingly removed each part, created individual scans, and processed them in Geomagic. The end result was a working 3D blueprint of the entire F-1 rocket.

NASA has been bullish on 3D printing and scanning for a while now. They've recently moved past the individual prototyping of parts and are planning to insert the 3D printed components directly into their rockets. Their latest 3D printed rocket engine fuel injector passed hot-fire tests with flying colors and they are also looking into 3D printing on the moon using lunar soil.