Thursday, September 13, 2012

3D Printers in SPACE!!!

One of the biggest benefits to 3D printing is efficient transportation of materials that could be used to make a variety of things. This makes it the ideal technology to be coupled with space travel. Already, there is much talk to the potential that the technology has in space. Not only is it a more efficient way to get large possibly bulky and cumbersome objects up to space, but it is also ideal for a situation in which the exact specifications of the tools and parts needed is not known at liftoff.

via USC
Earlier I wrote about a company called Contour Crafting, they are working on large scale 3D printers that could build a whole house in 24 hours. This idea can be taken even further and researchers at USC NASA-funded professors Behrokh Khoshnevis, Madhu Thangavelu, Neil Leach, and Anders Carlson are working on being able to convert lunar-soil into a building material that could be used in conjunction with Contour Crafting technology to build living quarters, landing pads, and more on the moon! Using local materials would then break down one of the large barriers to colonies on moons, planets, and asteroids. (Thanks to this Design News article for the heads up)

"Spider fab concept"
CREDIT: Tethers Unlimited
Another idea is to combine 3D printers with existing satellites and robotic technology in order to collect and gather all the space junk to be reused to build new satellites and spaceships. This idea is being pushed by both the government and private sector as a cost savings and innovation opportunity.  Recently, the "SpiderFab" concept by Tethers Unlimited was awarded a grant from NASA to work on this technology.

While space colonies and recycling satellites may be far off, 3D printing in space is not an idea for 100 years from now. Already there is work to get the technology operational and onto the International Space Station in order to print replacement parts. Founded in 2010 "Made In Space" is developing the technology for 3D printing in zero-gravity.

NASA has carried out parabolic flights that mimic microgravity to test "additive manufacturing" – a process that allows for on-call fabrication of spare parts. Work is under way to pursue hardware and procedural changes to make equipment more robust and astronaut-friendly.
CREDIT: Courtesy of NASA/Karen Taminger