Elon Musk Unveils 'Iron Man'-like Design Tech for SpaceX Rockets (Video)

Elon Musk shows how gesture-based tech is being used to design rockets at SpaceX. (Image credit: SpaceX)

Serial innovator Elon Musk is living up to his reputation as a real-life Tony Stark.

In a new video, Musk shows off the excessively cool "Iron Man"-like tech that is quite literally at his fingertips inside the rocket-making labs of his company SpaceX.

Two weeks ago, Musk nonchalantly tweeted: "Will post video of designing a rocket part with hand gestures & immediately printing in titanium."

The video tour of Musk' futuristic design tech shows just that. Musk first demonstrates how he can grab, rotate and zoom in on a wireframe model of SpaceX's Merlin rocket engine on a computer screen, simply by waving his hands. He then shows how the full CAD model of the rocket engine can be manipulated on a bigger screen — and in 3D if the user is wearing special glasses.

Elon Musk even shows how he can maneuver the rocket model on a freestanding glass projection overlooking SpaceX's workspace, just like the technology in high-tech "Iron Man" superhero films.


Musk says that people typically interact with computers in an "unnatural, 2D way," but SpaceX is developing interfaces to combat that problem.


"I believe we're on the verge of a major breakthrough in design and manufacturing," Musk says in the video, "in being able to take the concept of something from your mind, and translate that into a 3D object really intuitively on the computer."

But wait, there's more.

Musk also shows how to make a virtual rocket-part design real by 3D printing it. Using a 3D laser metal printer, Musk shows how SpaceX can build up layers and layers of titanium particles to make a cryogenic valve housing.

Musk is a busy entrepreneur. He recently unveiled his vision for a futuristic "Hyperloop" transport system that could get passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 35 minutes, and he announced that he will travel across the country in one the electric cars made by Tesla Motors, another company he founded.

SpaceX, meanwhile, has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to provide 12 unmanned cargo deliveries to the International Space Station. It has successfully completed two of those flights so far.

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Megan Gannon
Space.com Contributing Writer

Megan has been writing for Live Science and Space.com since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity on a Zero Gravity Corp. to follow students sparking weightless fires for science. Follow her on Twitter for her latest project.