3D printing in space is a great topic to explore as Space Week comes to an end. We reflect on the 3D printing industry and the contributions it is making to advancing space exploration.
In 2014 NASA launched the first 3D printer into space. This created a microgravity printing-on-demand machine shop, marking the beginning of something special. Crucial parts and tools are traditionally delivered on re-supply missions costing large amounts of time and money. 3D printing in space, however, allows for digital files to be sent to the international space station and printed within a matter of hours of receiving the file. The cost savings are undeniable and the ability to manufacture onsite is an exciting prospect for future space missions.
Taking a step back it all seems like something from the latest big-screen sci-fi hit, having the ability to push buttons and print whatever 3D object you so desire.
“But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here!”
The capabilities of 3D printing in space are understandably limited due to the fact that working in a ‘space environment’ is no straight forward task. Looking forward, who knows what could happen in the next 50 years with the space industry recognising the benefits of additive manufacturing.
More recently, ‘Rocklab’ launched a space rocket made almost entirely of 3D printed components. This manufacturing technology allows for complex light-weight structures that maintain their strong structural properties. Lighter space rockets mean less fuel, ultimately reducing the costs for these notoriously expensive projects.
In recent months the topic of colonising Mars has been an interesting debate. People often asking the question, “Would you go?” But what has this got to do with 3D printing? Well, the European Space Agency has proven solar energy can power the production of “bricks” of lunar dust allowing for the construction of buildings. Now researchers are now looking to see how 3D printing in space could create Mars homes, an exciting thought for the 3D industry!
Things have certainly moved on for NASA since our 2015 Highlights. The future looks exciting as the 3D industry advances the capabilities of space exploration and furthermore we at 3D Print Works can’t wait to see what happens next!