ESA launches first metal 3D printer to International Space Station




The metal 3D printer is headed for the International Space Station (Credit: ESA)
The metallic 3D printer is headed for the Worldwide House Station (Credit score: ESA)


Metallic 3D printing will quickly happen in orbit for the primary time, after the European House Company (ESA) launched a printer to the Worldwide House Station (ISS).

Designed to pave the way in which for manufacturing of complicated metallic components in area and allow additional exploration of the Moon and Mars, the European-made metallic 3D printer, developed by an industrial workforce led by Airbus Defence and House, set off on a resupply mission yesterday (30 January).

“This new 3D printer printing metallic components represents a world first, at a time of rising curiosity in in-space manufacturing,” mentioned ESA technical officer Rob Postema.

“Polymer-based 3D printers have already been launched to, and used aboard, the ISS, utilizing plastic materials that’s heated on the printer’s head, then deposited to construct up the specified object one layer at a time.

“Metallic 3D printing represents a higher technical problem, involving a lot increased temperatures and metallic being melted utilizing a laser. With this, the security of the crew and the station itself need to be ensured – whereas upkeep prospects are additionally very restricted. If profitable although, the power, conductivity and rigidity of metallic would take the potential of in-space 3D printing to new heights.” 

ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen will put together and set up the roughly 180kg machine. After set up, the printer will likely be managed and monitored from Earth.

“This in-orbit demonstration is the results of shut collaboration between ESA and Airbus’ small, dynamic workforce of engineers,” mentioned Patrick Crescence, mission supervisor at Airbus. “However this isn’t only a step into the longer term; it is a leap for innovation in area exploration. It paves the way in which for manufacturing extra complicated metallic buildings in area. That could be a key asset for securing exploration of Moon and Mars.”

The printer will use a kind of chrome steel generally utilized in medical implants and water remedy as a result of its good resistance to corrosion. The chrome steel wire will likely be fed into the printing space, which is heated by a high-power laser. Because the wire dips into the soften pool, the tip melts and metallic is added to the print.

“The soften pool of the print course of could be very small, within the order of a millimetre throughout, in order that the liquid metallic’s floor stress holds it securely in place in weightlessness,” mentioned ESA supplies engineer Advenit Makaya.

“Even so, the melting level of chrome steel is about 1,400°C, so the printer operates inside a totally sealed field, stopping extra warmth or fumes from reaching the crew of the area station. And earlier than the print course of begins, the printer’s inner oxygen environment must be vented to area, changed by nitrogen – the recent chrome steel would oxidise if it grew to become uncovered to the oxygen.”

4 shapes have been chosen to check the efficiency of the printer. These will likely be in comparison with the identical shapes printed on Earth, known as reference prints, to see how the area surroundings impacts the printing course of.

The 4 prints will all be smaller than a tender drink can in dimension and can weigh lower than 250g. They’ll every take about two to 4 weeks to print. Print time is proscribed to 4 hours per day, as a result of noise rules on the area station.

As soon as a form has been printed, Mogensen will take away it from the printer and pack it for return to Earth, the place will probably be processed and analysed to grasp the variations in print high quality and efficiency in area.

“As a know-how demonstration mission, our intention is to show the potential of metallic 3D printing in area,” mentioned Postema. “We’ve already realized rather a lot getting up to now and hope to be taught much more, on the way in which to creating in-space manufacturing and meeting a sensible proposition.”

One among ESA’s future objectives is to create a ‘round area financial system’, recycling supplies in orbit to permit for higher use of assets. Materials from outdated satellites may very well be repurposed utilizing metallic 3D printers into new instruments or buildings, for instance, eliminating the necessity to ship them up in a rocket.


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Content material printed by Skilled Engineering doesn’t essentially characterize the views of the Establishment of Mechanical Engineers.

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