ESA launches the first metal 3D printer for space to the ISS

Joseph Adebayo

The first metal 3D printer for space is being sent to the International Space Station (ISS) to be installed in ESA’s Columbus module. Its purpose is to demonstrate the technology’s effectiveness in orbit and to prepare for future use on Mars and the Moon.

Created by Airbus, the 180kg printer will be used to produce or repair tools, mounting interfaces, and mechanical parts. It has the capability to print parts with a volume of nine centimeters high and five centimeters wide, with the process taking around 40 hours.

After being installed at the ISS, the 3D printer will create four metal samples that will be returned to Earth for analysis. The ground-based engineering model of the printer will also generate the same specimens.

“In order to assess the effects of microgravity, ESA and Danish Technical University will conduct mechanical strength and bending tests and microstructural analysis on the parts made in space and compare them to the other specimens,” Sébastien Girault, metal 3D-printer system engineer at Airbus, stated.

In-space manufacturing is becoming a new frontier for research and enhanced space exploration capabilities. Space’s unique properties — microgravity, near-vacuum state, and higher levels of radiation — provide a distinct testing environment for various industries, including semiconductors and pharmaceuticals.

Additionally, the ability to repair or produce parts in space reduces the dependence on supplies from Earth and is crucial for extended exploration and life support in space.

“Increasing the level of maturity and automation of additive manufacturing in space could be a game changer for supporting life beyond Earth,” Gwenaëlle Aridon, Airbus Space Assembly lead engineer, stated.

“The melting point of stainless steel is about 1400 °C so the printer operates within a fully sealed box, preventing excess heat or fumes from reaching the crew of the Space Station,” Advenit Makaya, materials engineer at ESA, said.

“If this technology demonstrator proves to be successful, it opens the path to printing metal parts in space, in case a metal parts breaks down and needs to be replaced, or when a dedicated tool is needed which is not yet available,” Rob Postema, ESA technical officer revealed

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By Joseph Adebayo “TF UX”
Joseph Adebayo is the user experience maestro. With a degree in Graphic Design and certification in User Experience, he has worked as a UX designer in various tech firms. Joseph's expertise lies in evaluating products not just for their technical prowess but for their usability, design, and consumer appeal. He believes that technology should be accessible, intuitive, and aesthetically pleasing.
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