A New Material is Furthering 3D Printing in Space

A New Material is Furthering 3D Printing in Space

By Sofiane Boukhalfa

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has enabled many advancements in several industries, and it’s about to make a significant impact in a new environment – space.

The International Space Station Uses 3D Printing:

Last year, astronauts began 3D printing tools on the International Space Station using their advanced manufacturing facility (AMF). While this was an exciting development, their were some drawbacks to the 3D printed tool in space.

The harsh environment of space severely limits which materials can be used in the vacuum of space. Until now, there was no 3D printed material that could withstand these conditions. A few days ago, start-up Made in Space announced a new material and process to 3D print objects that could withstand these conditions. The new material is made from polyetherimide/polycarbonate (known as PEI/PC), and offers several advantages, including increased toughness and UV resistance. With this technological advancement, we can now bring tools to repair and build items in space.

3D printing can be used to create three dimensional objects by applying layers of materials on top of each other to create a final object. The layer-by-layer approach offers several advantages, including the ability to print complex shapes without the use of costly machining, the ability to use different materials for different layers, and to create complex 3D architecture to create functional objects.

Another large advantage of 3D printing is that it significantly reduces transportation costs. It gives individuals and organizations the ability to create a finished product at the location where this object will be used. There are few applications such as in construction, where this advantage will be more precious than in space, where the costs of transporting even the lightest objects are astronomical. 3D printing will allow astronauts to create space parts and other useful objects directly in space, without the need to ship it from the Earth’s surface. In fact, NASA intends to create the first 3D printed satellite to orbit Earth in 2018.

Such advancements in 3D printing that startups like Made in Space are working on, will help reduce the cost of space exploration in the years to come as we further explore building on Mars and space tourism. 

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