These 3D Printers Can Engineer Objects in Space Using Metal or Rock
Moving equipment into space isn’t easy. In fact just last week a Russian cargo ship headed for the International Space Station exploded right after it launched. But if we want to conduct further research in space (and maybe travel there one day), we need equipment and “stuff” up there. So instead of hauling cargo up there, why not just build it on site? That’s exactly why scientists have been working on developing 3D printers that function in zero gravity. Not only that, but they can construct objects using either stone or metal. Here’s how it works…
Researchers in the UK at Birmingham University have already successfully developed a 3D printer that works in zero gravity and uses a variety of metals including aluminum, titanium, and nickle. The process is called “selective laser melting” which basically means specific equipment can be produced a lot quicker than traditional machine-shop methods. It’s also a lot cheaper and results in less waste. But perhaps best of all, it requires a minimal amount of power— which is kind of hard to come by in space.
Now keep in mind, these printers probably won’t be able to produce giant structures or anything. But they could be used by astronauts to reproduce small parts for repairs– which could make things a lot easier. After all, a broken part could devastate a mission. They still have a few years of testing ahead, but UK’s metal printer has already been tested in a mock-environment on the European Space Agency’s “Vomit Comet.” So far, so good. “I think that it is realistic to imagine that an International Space Station (ISS) compatible system could be in place by 2020, subject to a smooth program of research,” Dr. Carter told Sputnik.
Not to be outdone, Russia is working on developing a 3D printer that they plan to use on the moon. But instead of using metal, the Russians have gotten creative. This 3D printer will produce objects using something the moon already has an abundance of: rock. “Before the end of 2018 we should work out and produce an operating prototype of a robotic system for 3D printing of objects from the rock materials on the Moon,” the press service’s statement read as reported by Sputnik. Russian engineers plan to start construction on a moon base in 2035.
Feature Image: © Photo: University of Birmingham