Introduction – Space Exploration Trends

3D printing is a novel technology ready to transform the way space travel and aeronautical exploration happened for so long. Be it 3D printed metals, high-quality objects with peculiar shapes, space food, etc. 3D printing is showing the light. It saves up a huge amount of manufacturing costs, making scientists crave this tech in space exploration trends.

NASA and other space exploration agencies such as ESA are conducting significant projects on engineering components with additive manufacturing (AM) that are useful in space. Made with off-center metals and alloys, these space objects trust 3D printing for a zero-waste production of equipment.

In a word, 3D printing has a profound impact on next-generation space research and exploration trends.

What Is 3D Printing?

3D printing is today’s asset for aerospace applications and space travels. But why do we say so? It sometimes comes to our mind how 3D printing helps in aerospace engineering.

3D printing or additive manufacturing is the process to produce products, gadgets, tools, food substances, required in aeronautics. It comprises designing a 3D CAD model in a 3D designing software. Thereafter, the need is to convert the design idea into a file and load it onto a 3D printer. Finally fueling the 3D printer with raw materials will help produce the product of our choice.

Researchers are using this cutting-edge technology to explore the future of 3D printing in space. These researches have led to a two-way application of AM – 3D printing within the space station and 3D printing outside of it.

Role of Such Advancements in Space Exploration

By now readers know how advancements in the novel additive manufacturing technology are a blessing from the entire space engineering perspective. For curious readers, here are a few instances where 3D printing played a significant role in space exploration.

In a space station, light-weight space-specific tools and pieces of equipment produced by 3D printing help astronauts fix problems during their life in orbits while space explorations. It is time-saving and easy to produce a tool by 3D printing such as a 3D printed screwdriver.

Sometimes some objects when damaged need a replacement. Getting one from Earth is For example when something is impaired, and they need to replace a part, it is difficult and very expensive to procure the same from Earth. In those dire circumstances within the station, astronauts simply 3D print the product.

Additive manufacturing has a crucial part outside the space station, where it simplifies logistics. Intelligent researchers from space science institutes rely on a 3D printer working orbiting in space to create structures of satellite and celestial objects. These state-of-the-art printers are integrated inside nanosatellites.

Professor Pascal Martinelli, from IUT of Cachan, threw light on how Additive manufacturing assists the space crew in their missions. It is a challenge to onboard large and rugged structures and to put them in orbit. That’s why 3D printing is a desirable solution. Nanosatellites fire 3D print structures straight into interplanetary space.

Small, cubic-shaped Nanosatellites, offer myriad possibilities in astronomy and space engineering. The most important of them being able to create 3D printed objects in space.

The two unique applications of 3D printers both inside a spatial station, and also outside of it is a new challenge, that revolutionized the working principle of NASA astronauts.

NASA’s In-Space Additive Manufacturing Initiative

In recent years NASA has tied up with several large and small organizations and supported many more using Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) that came up with additive manufacturing projects. These projects aimed to make the lives of astronauts in space easier, and also printing different satellites that mission to other celestial bodies.

In January of 2015, NASA collaborated with Made in Space Inc. onboard the International Space Station (ISS) to demonstrate the functionality of a customized 3D printer. With the new 3D printer at the International Space Station, astronauts could 3D print objects by themselves. This printer was sturdier compared to its competitor machines such as Spiders or Archinaut. It was designed to withstand severe conditions like pressure, vacuum, or the temperature variation in space.

In that project, a 3D printer was created by Made in Space whose aim was to create supplies in space instead of procuring them from Earth. Previous to this discovery of instant supplies in space, scientists had a constraint on space missions owing to the distance and term of stay. The absence of a supply chain from Earth to interplanetary space made it a necessity to embrace in-space product creation using additive manufacturing.

NASA tested several existing 3D printers in simulated microgravity in 2011, through its Flight Opportunities Program and found that they were well-suited to a zero-gravity environment.

Made in Space and the Archinaut 3D printer

Made in Space collaborated with NASA to create a 3D printer inside of the International Space Station (ISS). This 3D printer, Archinaut, can print an entire satellite outside of the station. NASA joined hands with this organization to create this impressive machine amped up with a 3D printer, robotic arms, etc.

This machine was a savior for astronauts for it could create things that could not be transported. It also challenged the absence of gravity and built satellites directly in space. The Archinaut system was capable of servicing existing satellites.

This project in additive manufacturing technology took NASA several years ahead in the future.

Challenges in 3D Printing For Space

The interplanetary space has an entirely different environment from what we have on Earth. Thus, it is challenging to conduct additive manufacturing in space just the same way we do it on earth. Space scientists had a hard time designing a 3D printer that can work with equal efficacy in a zero-gravity environment.

The devices are designed to manufacture an object in the vacuum of space.

Additive manufacturing technology in orbit is a radically unconventional experience. Starting from the printing material, corrosion resistivity, and other characteristics have a sea change from traditional ones. The printing material has a big role to play in producing the equipment which can be comfortably used in space.

All possible solutions for 3D printing in space are yet to be discovered. Scientists are working tirelessly to modify this technology in such a way that all challenges with 3D printing in space can be resolved.

Wrapping Up

There is a lot of research and exploration left in the field of 3D printing for space equipment. Technology always finds its way to serve humanity. As the most intelligent species, we need to make use of these 3D printing machines and figure out how the astronauts can utilize them to procure something of their need.

More and more companies are growing by the day who are engineering these 3D printers. Startups and coming up with brilliant projects on additive manufacturing in space. With the cooperation of NASA and these organizations, one day, man can do much more in space than he ever thought of.