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  /  Latest News   /  How is Space Tech Planning for a Future with 3D Printing
3D Printing

How is Space Tech Planning for a Future with 3D Printing

A new era in human spaceflight and exploration has begun, advocates of 3D printing say.

3D Printing has always kept us all astonished with its extremely feasible technology, that has made any sort of work, a lot easier and a lot faster. Now, it has always ventured with its wonders into the field of space tech and the exploration is going to lead towards the smart future of space tech. Here’s how:

The 3D printer aboard the International Space Station produced its first part manufacturing a piece of itself called an extruder plate. The humble part is just the first of many objects that will be created off Earth over the coming years, helping humanity explore far beyond its home planet and even establish outposts on distant worlds, some experts say.

The 3D Print project teams NASA with California-based start-up Made in Space, which designed and built the 3D-printing machine currently aboard the orbiting lab.

 

Enabling Exploration

Astronauts on the space station have long been reliant on launches from Earth to bring them spare parts and replacements for things that break. This is not an ideal situation; rocket launches are expensive, and they generate intense vibrations that can shake apart delicate cargo. So having a 3D printer — which builds objects layer by layer out of plastic, metal or other feedstock materials — on the space station could make crewmembers’ lives easier and result in significant savings, NASA officials say. For example, a recent study by the space agency found that about 30 percent of parts aboard the orbiting lab could be manufactured with a 3D printer.

Researchers could also use such machines to build tiny satellites, or CubeSats, aboard the space station rather than launch them from Earth, NASA officials have said. “We really want to see these things become the building blocks for the future of exploration,” Made in Space Lead Engineer Mike Snyder told Space.com, referring to 3D printers. “They really can lead into sustainability in space, and actually make these missions that cost a lot of money be reduced just because you don’t have to launch as much mass.” 3D printing should also help humanity establish outposts on the moon and Mars, especially if the feedstock is sourced locally, from lunar or Martian materials, said Made in Space CEO Aaron Kemmer.

 

Developing the Technology

NASA is working to develop and incorporate 3D printing technology on several different fronts. Last year, for example, the agency awarded a $125,000 grant to a researcher seeking to build a prototype 3D printer for food. NASA officials hope such a “3D pizza printer” could one day help feed astronauts on long space missions, such as the journey to Mars. NASA has also been testing rocket-engine parts made via 3D printing, which experts say is significantly cheaper and more efficient than traditional manufacturing techniques for such parts. NASA isn’t alone in investing in 3D printing. For instance, Lockheed Martin used the technology to make some parts for the Orion crew capsule, which the aerospace firm builds for NASA. SpaceX has flown 3D-printed rocket parts on commercial launches, and the company is using additive manufacturing to construct the emergency escape rockets for the manned version of its Dragon spacecraft, which could begin ferrying astronauts to and from the space station soon.

Further, the European Space Agency (ESA) plans to launch its own 3D printer to the International Space Station, ESA also recently teamed with industrial partners to investigate the feasibility of using 3D-printing technology to build a moon base using lunar materials. “3D printing offers a potential means of facilitating lunar settlement with reduced logistics from Earth,” Scott Hovland, of ESA’s human spaceflight team, said in a statement last year. “The new possibilities this work opens up can then be considered by international space agencies as part of the current development of a common exploration strategy.”