NASA back zero gravity 3D printer development

NASA back zero gravity 3D printer development
Picture credit: NASA

If you are looking for investment for your business it can be hard to get, but NASA always have generous amounts available to businesses who can solve the problems involved in any of their current or future missions in space.

3D printing certainly has potential to be incredibly useful in space and therefore it was probably only a matter of time before somebody started work on a 3D printer that can work in space. There are of course now dozens of different 3D Printer designs many used for rapid prototyping services, but unsurprisingly these can’t be used in zero gravity. Some popular 3D printers for rapid prototyping services use powder and a binder, totally suitable for use in space.

Made in Space though are the company who have developed a 3D printer that can work in partial gravity. They have already printed a wrench on a test flight with an aircraft completing dives to simulate partial gravity.

The demand for a 3D printer from NASA is for making usable tools and parts as and when needed. This is partly because of the cost and space required to keep spare parts and to send up spare parts. This costs a huge amount and space on the space station, where in the near future 3D printers may be used, is limited of course meaning that not every spare part can be kept. The result is that if a part was urgently needed  currently it would have to be sent up on a flight launched specifically to deliver that part.

With a 3D printer a supply of materials used for printing is all that is needed, generally a polymer but in future potentially light weight metal powder such as titanium. Any part that can be made from these materials can be made instantly from a database of CAD files or even with CAD files sent from earth in minutes. Potentially in future parts could even be designed on the space station especially when conducting experiments where design may be reactionary to results: more like using 3D printers for rapid prototyping services but for designs that will be designed for use in zero gravity.

Being able to print parts is also of course quicker than waiting for them to be delivered, that could be vital where parts were important to the life systems on board the space station or other craft.

Another advantage of being able to print this way is that the small amount of material that would need to be kept in stock would become even less as parts could be made much lighter due to the fact they won’t have to withstand getting blasted into space and won’t have to contend with gravity. This ability to make light weight parts means that space craft could even be manufactured part by part in space and made to be much lighter than if they were made on earth.

Of course even though light weight these will be parts that will be used and will have to be reliable; as time goes by then Made in Space will have to develop their printer further and get further away from the technological starting point of 3D printers used in rapid prototyping services, where longevity and strength are less important and less than with traditional manufacturing techniques.

As has happened in the past of course technological developments for use by NASA may then feed back into the mainstream: taking the 3D printing industry itself a step further along and away from its rapid prototyping services roots.


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