3d prints and 3d printing in zero gravity
3d printing is getting more and more important in space research, not just by prototyping and simulated experiments, but there already are working 3d printed parts in space, not to mention printers!
Sure, some of them are just concepts at the moment, but some are a bit further already. Like Audi’s 3d printed lunar rover. (see the pic above) Audi has been experimenting with metal alloy printing lately, and now they produced a nifty little rover, whose main mission is to visit its big brother (the “LRV”) on the Moon, where it has been left by NASA over 40 years ago!
As we’ve mentioned, 3d printing is not just for rapid prototyping, but for actual, custom parts. For example the Atlas V Rocket has some parts made of the highly resistive ULTEM 9085 material, but if we take a look at the revolutionary engine of Rocket Lab’s spacecraft Electron, we see a load of printed parts.
Now on to the fun part!
We’re getting pretty close to see the fantasy of StarTrek’s Replicator become a reality. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station are printing parts and tools for their daily needs (and they’re even taking orders from now on!).
3d printing in space is a big deal since the amount of spare parts that they can take with them is painfully small, because weight and volume are critical factors when it comes to sending something into orbit. Launching only a pound of equipment costs about 10,000$ (and you thought paying a few extra bucks for an overweight luggage on the airport was bad). Thanks to the European Space Agency, soon they’ll be able to print complex electronics, “breadboards” in zero gravity.
They even want to experiment on printing with alien materials. Remember this year’s CES? Planetary Resources presented an object printed with powdered asteroid metal. ESA took this concept a huge leap further; they want to print with lunar sand, directly on spot, to create a colony on the Moon.
In case you want to print something space related, like your own little replica of the Curiosity Rover, check out the 3d model collection of NASA!