How 3D printing is revolutionising space travel – in a really unexpected way!

3s space

You are messing around in your garage, you are trying to fix a broken (Insert electronic thing here) and you need your screwdriver. Your hand instinctively reaches for your toolbox, and you dig around for a while, but you can’t seem to find it anywhere. What do you do?


mechanic

Well, you might search a little bit more but if you’re still coming up empty, you’ll have to go and buy a new one. It is an inconvenience, sure, but it isn’t really a life and death situation and the worst it has resulted in is a few pounds and a trip to the shop.

What happens in space?


astronaut

Some silly astronaut lets go of your only screwdriver whilst doing maintenance on the outside of the ship. Are you just going to pop to the local ‘Aliens R Us’ and grab a new one? Doubtful (unless that conspiracy theory I read really was true). So, what’s next?

I guess you’d ring home. But to send a new screwdriver to the moon it would have to travel 238855.086 miles. The cost would be astronomical (mind the pun!). 


3d printing


So, instead of sending out supplies and tools, what scientists are going to do is ensure that on future space expeditions there is always a 3D printer. This will allow astronauts to print the tools they need.

We have been experimenting with 3D printing in the International Space Station since 2014 when NASA collaborated with Made in Space to send the first 3D printer out. This was to see if astronauts could carry out vital repairs using the technology during space missions.


3d printing

3D printing in space isn’t an easy job. The printers usually start at the bottom of the object and build layer upon layer to create the item. In an environment with zero gravity, there is no platform to rest the item on as it is being built but also the item itself will not stay in the same position for the process.

The printer itself needs to be more robust and made of a lighter material than typical 3D printers, as there would be no repair options available if the printer was damaged in any way. 


3d printing


Using 3D printers in space could go beyond that of printing tools and supplies. These printers could potentially be used to create shelters and houses. These printers could even be used to create airlocks. This would make these houses livable for astronauts (and maybe eventually humans too).

Perhaps these airlock chambers/shelters could even be used to grow food. There has been research into filtering sunlight into these shelters. The only difficulty would be water and the fluctuating temperatures.


space travel


Isn’t it exciting how quickly technology can progress? Today we are sitting at our desks at work, tomorrow we could be on the first flight to the Moon or to Mars. What will our lives be like? Is zero gravity scary? Can we survive? Only time will tell.

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