Entries in space (37)
by General Fabb
D-Shape, makers of a massive 3D printing solution capable of printing large, building-sized structures, has apparently been working with the European Space Agency on lunar building experiment.
The idea is to use on site materials (lunar regolith, which is simply a mix of sand, dust and other particles) as the 3D print materials. In this way you'd need only send the 3D printer to the lunar surface and save on freight.
D-Shape's 3D printer is particularly well-suited for this experiment, as it uses a powder-based process. It begins with a level bed of sand, which is then sprayed in certain locations with binder. A second layer of sand is spread on top and the process repeats, gradually building up an object within a volume of sand. When complete, you need only remove the loose sand to reveal the object.
This process could work in the lunar environment if it proves feasible in the vacuum, cold and heat of space. While ESA was not yet able to perform that test, they did produce a prototype 1500kg "brick" seen in the image above.
We're hoping the D-Shape process can be adapted for lunar (and by extension, solar system) use, but experiments on the lunar surface are likely years away.
Not too long ago DARPA and NASA began hosting symposiums to discuss the possibility of interstellar travel. The brightest minds in the fields of technology, science, philosophy, sociology and economics all gathered to determine what it would take to build a 100 Year Starship.
While some proposed massive spaceships reminiscent of the Starship Enterprise, others advocated a different way to explore the cosmos.
Read more at ENGINEERING.com
Tethers Unlimited hopes to enable inexpensive construction of truly massive structures in outer space by leveraging 3D printing and robotics.
The company is developing a "Trusselator" as a first step under a NASA experimental contract that will be able to build large trusses in a weightless environment.
The machine spins out a completed truss by joining extruded pipes with 3D printed joints. By altering the shape of the joints, different forms of large structures can be easily created.
So far they've identified two interesting uses for the technology: a Star Shade that obscures the light of a distant star to enable optical detection of its planets and a massive 100m reflector dish.
The Star Shade in particular will require sub-millimeter accuracy in both positioning and shape to ensure exoplanet detection. The 3D printer component will produce the Shade's edge to that level of precision.
If successful, we suspect Tethers Unlimited will be able to create a lot more than just a Star Shade and Reflector. As our post How Big is the Space 3D Printing Market? suggests, this could be only the beginning.
At the moment there are no 3D printers in space, so you'd think there's no market for such things.
We disagree. It's possible that one of the biggest future markets for 3D printers will be beyond mother Earth, in space where the future will be built. By 3D printers.
The single, most important reason we think this is simply that it is fantastically expensive to loft finished items into space, becoming even more expensive the farther you want to go.
Imagine the cost of say, shipping a complete human habitat to Mars versus shipping a specialized 3D printer that could construct the majority of the structure from freely available onsite materials, then shipping only the remaining complex components for installation. This could significantly reduce the cost - and increase the probability of future space travel.
Where ever we require an installation, a 3D printer suitable for the job could reduce costs. Even better, the device could continue to operate, making potentially endless products available at terribly remote locations.
Who would need these specialized 3D printers? For now it may only be governmental institutions, such as NASA or ESA. But in the very near future, multiple commercial ventures are poised to make that giant leap to the beyond.
They will buy space 3D printers. They will build our off-planet infrastructure with them. They will create our new worlds with them - and new markets for 3D printing.
NASA often provides small amounts of funding to check out some pretty unusual ideas. One of the projects they're currently funding is the feasibility of an advanced biocomposite microdispening system.
Wait, what the heck is that? We told you this was an unusual idea! The proposition is to use micro-components already available in the space environment and "dispense" them in a 3D array to form useful structures. Sounds much like 3D printing to us, although on a micro-scale and using far-out materials.
The process overview above shows how the system would work (click for larger view), which essentially takes small bits and places them in 3D positions. Of course, the devil is always in the details. One can imagine the horrendously complex 3D models required to duplicate functioning biomaterials.
Lynn Rothschild of the NASA Ames Research Center says:
Imagine being on Mars with the ability to replace any broken part, whether it's a part of your spacesuit, your habitat, or your own body. We propose a technique that would allow just that. By printing 3D arrays of cells engineered to secrete the necessary materials, the abundant in situ resources of atmosphere and regolith become organic, inorganic, or organic-inorganic composite materials.
Impossible? We hope not, because if this works, the spin off would be home 3D printers that really and truly are replicators.
You may recall our post on NASA's plan to use 3D printed parts to replace conventionally-made parts in future rocket engines? It's much further along than you'd think - the video below shows an actual test firing of a prototype rocket using a 3D printed liner. This, as far as we can tell, is the first time a real rocket engine has been fired with 3D printed parts.
NASA Marshall says:
This video gives you a blazing view of the one of the first tests of a 3-D printed rocket injector on June 27, 2013, in Test Stand 115 at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Propulsion engineers used the tests to compare the performance of a 3-D printed rocket injector to an injector made with multiple parts and traditional welds. During the extreme temperatures and pressures of the hot firing, the 3-D printed part performed as well as the traditionally manufactured part. This test included a 3-D printed liner.
Yes, it really works.
Aerojet Rocketdyne has been working with NASA to develop a way to 3D print rockets. Well, not the WHOLE rocket, but certain critical parts, namely an Injector Assembly.
They're working on a completely integrated manufacturing process with Selective Laser Melting technology that will be capable of rapidly producing "highly critical rocket engine components". We suspect they are leveraging 3D printing's ability to create complex objects that are lightweight compared to the traditional method of bolting several pieces together - which often adds significant weight.
The twist here is that they have to certify that the parts produced are truly safe to use by passing numerous tests. Part of that certification was accomplished recently by using a 3D printed part in a "hot fire test". You can imagine what that means.
The test was successful; More rocket parts will be printed.
You might recall Cubify's 3DMe app that puts your head on a custom 3D printed Star Trek figurine? The next generation of the app now includes Star Trek: The Next Generation models.
You can now select ST:TNG uniforms in either blue, gold or red. (We would strongly advise not selecting red, because, you know…)
The app uses images of your face and plants them accurately on predesigned models, which are available in several poses and genders. Well, two genders.
Available now for USD$69 and an image of yourself.
We're wondering if Sir Patrick Stewart would consider making one of these?
You may recall the announcement of Planetary Resources? They're the futuristic company that intends on developing technology to capture asteroids and refine them for their mineral wealth. The company is backed by several notable entrepreneurs and explorers, including X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis and filmmaker James Cameron. Now they've added another major investor: 3D Systems.
3D Systems says they've:
joined Planetary Resources’ core group of investors and will be a collaborative partner in assisting Planetary Resources to develop and manufacture components of its ARKYD Series of spacecraft using its advanced 3D printing and digital manufacturing solutions.
To be clear, it's actually not 3D Systems that's doing the investing; instead they've formed a totally new company, 3D Systems Ventures, which will do the investing. This new leg of 3D Systems will invest in projects and organizations that will be powered by 3D Systems' technologies.
While many of 3D Systems Ventures investments will be for conventional industries, we suspect there will be few like Planetary Resources. This investment suggests 3D Systems will undertake development of true, space-based 3D printing, far beyond recent experiments. 3D Systems has a strategy to command as many 3D printing processes as possible; space-based 3D printing will surely present opportunities to develop several entirely new processes.
That and take us out into the solar system. Go!
Via 3D Systems
They made the 3D printer, now they send it into space. Made In Space, the startup who have designed a compact 3D printer suitable for use in the weightless environment in space, now have a flight date for their machine. In August 2014 their 3D printer will be carried aloft to the International Space Station on one of SpaceX's Dragon supply missions.
This will be the very first time 3D printing technology reaches beyond Earth. It won't be the last time.
Anything traveling to space has a specific mission, and Made In Space's 3D printer is no different. During its term at the station it will demonstrate the viability of one method of 3D printing, extrusion. Feedback will be gathered to aid in the development of future space-based 3D printers. It's all part of the journey from the lab to everyday use (at least in orbit).
We're wondering what the first print should be. Any suggestions?
Via Made In Space