Back in September we wrote a blog about a Zero-G, 3D printer that had just made its way to the International Space Station. Now, after finally being installed, the printer has been able to produce its first component and make its mark on history. Whilst this may not seem like an important or impressive feat to some, it opens up a number of possibilities as we head into the future and marks a huge triumph in what is capable of being achieved in the manufacturing industry.
What has been printed?
The most crucial thing you may be wondering at this stage is what exactly the astronauts printed. Well, while it is nothing hugely significant or ground-breaking, it is something that seems somewhat appropriate. As part of a test to ensure that the device was working and to honour those that put it there, the astronauts created a face-plate for the extruder print-head on the printer itself. The faceplate also has both the NASA logo and the Made In Space logo emblazoned on it too – Made In Space is the company responsible for developing and building the printer.
Why is this important?
The ability to print 3D objects in space is not something to scoff at. The amount of work, research and specialist designs that went into the printer’s development is incredible – there are so many more factors to consider when you are printing something when there is no gravity. By being able to print their own objects in space, it is hoped that NASA will be able to minimise the shipping of parts and tools from Earth, increasing the International Space Station’s ability to be self-sufficient.
Speaking about the printed component, Aaron Kemmer, CEO of Made In Space, said the following: “When the first human fashioned a tool from a rock, it couldn’t have been conceived that one day we’d be replicating the same fundamental idea in space. We look at the operation of the 3D printer as a transformative moment, not just for space development, but for the capability of our species to live away from Earth."
Looking ahead to the future
This first component marks the beginning of the initial phase of testing that is going to be undertaken. More parts and tools are going to be made over the coming weeks with the intention of them being sent back to earth for comparative testing. They will be compared to identical objects printed on Earth in relation to tensile strength, torque, flexibility and other factors, allowing us to see how microgravity affects the printing process. The results of this testing will then be used to perfect the second iteration of the printer which is due to be shipped to the space station in early 2015.
As well as producing parts and tools to make the station more self-sufficient, the project also aims to explore interesting concepts, such as unique structures that can only be achieved in microgravity and other research. All of this marks a huge triumph for the manufacturing industry and shows that with the right thinking and creative minds then anything is possible.
We wish the project all the best and look forward to seeing how it can change or improve manufacturing and 3D product development moving forward. Find out more about the Zero-G printer by watching the promotional video below
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