How additive manufacturing becomes the key in space exploration?
Additive manufacturing | Space exploration | 3D printed | 3D printing applications
The latest developments in space exploration show the key role additive manufacturing is going to play in space travel, manufacturing for space missions and planet colonization.
Back on the 24th of November 2014 the first component (extruder plate) was manufactured by additive manufacturing at the International Space Station (ISS). Since then, significant progress has been made to resolve the challenge of producing spare parts or brand-new components in space. According to NASA, a successful logistics system capable of feeding the ISS with more than 7,000 pounds of spare parts every year will be required for astronauts to conduct their research. To respond in such demand NASA initiated the ISM project back in 2014 which now produces hundreds of parts for exploration missions.
Additive manufacturing slowly becomes the core technology for many space agents around the world and it is the main contributor of reducing the cost of travelling kilogram to space. With design optimization the total weight of use in-space-devices could be significantly reduced.
In Europe the European Space Agency has clearly recognized the benefits of using additive manufacturing 7 years ago. Since then, the below 3d printing advancements have been recognized globally by other various space organisations as well.
• Complex geometries are now manufacturable
• The benefits of using 3d printing in layers
• The wide range of plastic and metal materials that can be used
• Making scalable models
• Producing parts for testing
• Lightweight structures are now achievable in both launch vehicles and in spaceborne devices/equipment – weight-optimised geometries are now critical 3D printed titanium lattice ball. Credit: The European Space Agency
• Development of new advanced materials, high performance polymers and composites that can potentially replace metals in some occasions
As a main consequence of all the above, the cost for commercial space activities can be dramatically lowered.
In 2020 NASA hot-fire tested for over 10 days 3d printed parts designed for its rocket engines, combustion chamber and nozzle as part of its project Long-Life Manufacturing Assembly (LLAMA). It is claimed that hydrogen resistant alloys possess high strength enough to withstand the high temperature inside the combustion chambers. NASA believes that it is feasible to use the plethora of additive manufacturing techniques to manufacture parts that can be used for future space exploration missions.
Other organisations such as COSM Advanced Manufacturing Systems (https://www.cosmtd.com/) are close to complete the development of a new generation of large electron beam 3d metal printing systems for various extra-terrestrial industrial applications. It is going to be based on NASA’s Artemis Hot-fire testing of a 3D-printed combustion chamber and a nozzle made of a high strength, hydrogen-resistant alloy. Credit: NASA Moon to Mars Program (the first woman and the next man to land on the Moon, specifically at the lunar south pole region, by 2024).
Further down the line of the development, a Masters level student in Germany is already working with EAC (European Space Agency’s – European Astronaut Centre) investigating the potential of using 3d printing technology with materials that already exist on the Moon with the scope to facilitate the establishment of human presence.
On the latest achievements, NASA’s Orion Spacecraft which is going to send astronauts to the Moon and further into deep space, is on the final stages to launch. Big player Stratasys joined Lockheed Martin (the biggest NASA contractor) to manufacture 3D printed components using advanced PEKK-based thermoplastics materials.
There are many large and small projects worldwide including NASA’s and ESA’s funded projects working on the possibility of using additive manufacturing methods to assist future exploration missions so they can become independent from Earth’s space operations or even to build infrastructure on the Moon and on Mars.
3D printing advancements are now becoming obvious and additive manufacturing is becoming the key for many organisations which envision inhabitance of the Moon and Mars in the near future.
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