3Dprinting in Space? Many people are only just getting to grips with 3Dprinting on planet earth. The industry has not even matured yet and already there is a 3Dprinter that has been designed to 3Dprint in zero gravity. The project is called ‘Made in Space’ and has been pioneered by joint partnerships between entrepreneurs, NASA and key 3D printing developers. It started in 2010 with the goal of ‘enabling humanity’s future in space’ with the aim being to explore the ‘ long-term effects of microgravity on 3D printing, and how it can enable the future of space exploration’. The results of four years of research and development led to the successful launching into space of the ‘Zero G Printer’. The 3Dprinter has already been launched into orbit on the 23rd September from Cape Canavera, Florida and is probably 3Dprinting right now. According to their ‘mission statement’ Made in Space claim that by ‘manufacturing space assets in space as opposed to earth, will help broaden space development whilst also providing unprecedented access for people on Earth to use in-space capabilities.’ This sounds like one of the most exciting projects to emerge from the developing 3dprinting industry in the past few years. Aaron Kemmer (CEO of Made in Space) explains, “Everything that has ever been built for space has been built on the ground. Tremendous amounts of money and time have been spent to place even the simplest of items in space to aid exploration and development. This new capability will fundamentally change how the supply and development of space missions is looked at.”
Once on board the International Space Centre, the 3Dprinter will print a series of parts, tools and even students STEM projects to study the effects of 3Dprinting in zero gravity. The printer has been re-designed to meet the demands of the lack of gravity, with an adapted extrusion method along with thermal process adjustments so that the printer will print safely in ABS. To develop this project was no easy feat. It took over 25 employees along with over 400 hours of ‘micorgravity flights’ flown on a modified Boeing aeroplane, along with over 30,000 hours of testing to develop the printer to print safely in zero gravity. If you think about how 3dprinting works, any parts that are held in place by gravity might move, resulting in the print being destroyed, so to combat this is a major accomplishment in the advancement of 3Dprinting technology. A major advantage of this project is, ultimately, if successful, it could drastically reduce the cost of sending spare parts into space. Already NASA has spent over 1.2 billion dollars on spare parts for the International Space Station that may never be used and launching anything into space currently costs $10,000 per KG. If you had the ability to cut out the transport of parts into space by manufacturing them on demand, huge financial savings could be made and spent elsewhere. Also you wouldn’t need to store spare parts on the space station you could simply manufacture as needed, freeing up vital space in the ISS for other uses. More possible advantages include creating designs that could be 3Dprinted in space to due zero gravity, so the boundaries of traditional design and 3Dprinting could be could be redefined.
The future of this project is really ground breaking. NASA estimates that 30% of the International Space Station parts could be 3Dprinted and also if we are to explore space even further, 3Dprinting is an option that will form a vital part of the journey.
For more information visit the Made in Space website by clicking the logo below;
Information and facts obtained from madeinspace.com.