TECHNOLOGY

ESA sends world’s first metal 3D printer for space to ISS

The enviornment’s first metal 3D printer for space is on its arrive to the World House Space (ISS), the keep this may maybe well very properly be place in in ESA’s Columbus module. Its mission is to show the validity of the technology in orbit and pave the arrive for future employ on Mars and the Moon.

Developed by Airbus, the 180kg printer will be former to repair or fabricate instruments, mounting interfaces, and mechanical parts. It can presumably print parts with a quantity of 9 centimetres high and five centimetres huge, with the formulation lasting about 40 hours.

Once place in at the ISS, the 3D printer will fabricate four metal samples that will be despatched aid to Earth for prognosis. The flooring-primarily based mostly engineering mannequin of the printer will furthermore assemble the same specimens.

metal 3D printer Airbus ESA
The four check prints. Credit ranking: Airbus House and Defence SAS

“In shriek to mediate the consequences of microgravity, ESA and Danish Technical University will fabricate mechanical strength and bending exams and microstructural prognosis on the parts made in space and study them to the opposite specimens,” Sébastien Girault, metal 3D-printer machine engineer at Airbus, outlined.

In-space manufacturing: the recent frontier

In-space manufacturing has emerged because the recent frontier both for research and for improved space exploration capabilities.

When it involves R&D, space’s properties — its microgravity, near-vacuum narrate, and increased ranges of radiation — offer a diversified testbed for sectors starting from semiconductors to prescription tablets.

At the same time, the power to repair or assemble parts in space reduces the reliance on offers despatched from Earth and is attributable to this fact key to prolonged exploration and existence give a boost to in space.

“Increasing the level of maturity and automation of additive manufacturing in space will be a game changer for supporting existence past Earth,” Gwenaëlle Aridon, Airbus House Assembly lead engineer, acknowledged.

“Pondering past the ISS, the functions will be fantastic. Agree with a metal printer the usage of remodeled regolith [moondust] or recycled materials to make a lunar notorious!”

The metal age of space

3D printing of plastic parts aboard the ISS has been taking plight since 2014. Nonetheless printing metal in space comes with a popularity of challenges.

The first one is dimension. This required unnerved the printer to the scale of a washing machine; as compared, flooring-primarily based mostly printers opt now not lower than 10 sq. metres, according to Girault.

3D metal printer ESA Airbus
The 3D metal printer. Credit ranking: ESA

Yet any other teach is security. That’s due to a metal 3D printer now not handiest operates in increased temperatures, but furthermore requires a sturdy laser to soften the metal.

“The melting level of stainless metal is set 1400 °C so the printer operates interior a absolutely sealed box, combating excess heat or fumes from reaching the crew of the House Space,” Advenit Makaya, materials engineer at ESA, acknowledged.

“And earlier than the print route of begins the printer’s interior oxygen ambiance has to be vented to space, replaced by nitrogen — the hot stainless metal would oxidise if it grew to alter into uncovered to the oxygen.”

If the 3D printer yields a hit results, the technology may maybe well perhaps trace serious to Mars and lunar exploration, while contributing to ESA’s vision for a round space economy.

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