How 3D Design and Printing is Transforming Space Exploration and Research
- Feb 25, 2016
The Additive Manufacturing (AM) technique has already brought a revolution in various industrial fields. It has brought a metamorphic transformation in the field of space exploration and research. The benefits of 3D Design and Printing (AM) in that field are endless. Let's go through some of them which are listed below.
Manufacture Items Directly in Space
Astronauts were generally dependent on launches from the Earth for transportation of various goods or items required for their space research and exploration. What happens if they forget something even after a long, thorough planning? What happens if the situation calls for a certain object and they don't have that within their reach? They are miles away from our planet. 3D printing can solve that problem at least to a certain extent. They can manufacture certain items in space directly without relying on another supporting launch from Earth which will definitely result in an additional cost of time and money.
Easy and Ready Availability of Replacements and Spare Parts
Certain objects that are required for space exploration can be fragile in structure. What happens if they break? Space shuttle or rocket launches generate vigorous vibrations. These vibrations can easily break apart delicate objects. 3D design and printing can readily solve this problem. Replacements can be made easily and readily as per requirement. Even spare parts can be constructed depending on contingencies.
"Additive manufacturing with 3D printers will allow space crews to be less reliant on supply missions from Earth and lead to sustainable, self-reliant exploration missions where resupply is difficult and costly,"
-Jason Crusan's (director of NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems Division) statement.
Establishment of Outposts on our Neighbor Planet (Mars) and the Moon
Establishment of permanent outposts on Mars and the moon becomes possible with the implications of this technology. The feedstock has to be a local source e.g. Martian or Lunar materials. Feedstock refers to the biological as well as renewable raw materials associated with the produce.
No Subtractive Manufacturing
The standard method of “Subtractive Manufacturing” is no longer implemented by this technology. Subtractive Manufacturing technique is the construction of objects by successive cutting materials from a solid source. Additive manufacturing technique is now implemented by these 3D printers. It involves constructing an object from successive layers.
The process basically involves three key methods:
- 3D CAD (Computer-aided Designing) model,
- Slicing into layers,
- Layer-wise assembly,
- Complete object.
The simple diagrammatic representation is shown below:
Image courtesy - https://goo.gl/tQm2LW
Change in Designing Rules
3D designing for manufacturing objects through the help of 3D printers has altered the rules for designing objects for space exploration and research. The traditional designing processes generally had two thumb rules:
- Figuring out the way to provide a cutting device an access to the bulky part of the object,
- Removing surplus materials for revelation of the final object.
3D printing curbs all these restrictions. The designing mentality for the “purpose of manufacturing” has gone through a change to the “purpose of need”.
Items that are Deemed “Impossible” can be made “Possible”
3D printing can be used to build objects that are difficult or impossible to manufacture by hand.
The titanium matrix (lattice) ball, which is depicted in the figure and is manufactured by 3D printing.
Image courtesy - https://goo.gl/yVioSx
The external geometry of this hollow ball is complex. It's very difficult to manufacture this object without the aid of a 3D printer.
Minimal Wastage of Raw Materials
It is found that 3D printing usually involves the use of raw materials such as plastic, filament, carbon fiber or metal fiber. These materials are recyclable and hence, it virtually generates no wastes.
Swift Production Time
Manufacturing through 3D printing is much faster when compared to that of the traditional methods.
The cost involved in manufacturing certain objects through 3D printing is a very nominal amount. By reducing wastage and making replacements available, the cost incurred is also reduced to a certain extent.
Lattices of Lighter Weight can be Manufactured in Space
Lattices bear light weights and provide greater surface area. Therefore, they provide a better radiative cooling. Hence, thermal resilience is improved. This factor is very important for engines whose temperatures rise up to values close to 2500 degrees Celsius.
Future scopes: Rocket Engine Parts
NASA is working on several tests involving 3D-printed rocket engines. The scope of application is still in its infancy but the idea is there to implement at some point. It is known that the tested parts show more durability and bear more efficiency than traditionally manufactured parts. NASA has also gone forward with their plan of 3D printing for “food”. They incorporated the idea in a 3D printer prototype which will be capable of printing pizzas. According to NASA, this technology will be immensely beneficial on long distance space travels.
It can be said that space technology (both exploration and research) will soon be dependent on 3D printing for a number of factors. Some of the factors are already explained. It can also be estimated that more factors will come in. The scopes are endless. NASA had already built a racket wrench using a 3D printer at their space station. This is just the start. More prototypes of this technology will soon come into existence.
Futurite aims to bring high quality STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education to school students in India. Our mission is to use cutting-edge technologies such as Robotics and 3D Printing to impart a thorough grounding in STEM subjects and concepts to school students while making their learning experience fun, engaging and hands-on. Futurite has been operating in Dubai successfully (as Premier Genie) since a number of years, working with over 25 of the top international schools and teaching 1000+ students. Futurite has been founded by alumni from IIT, IIM, JU and HEC Paris.
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