3D Printing in Space!
While working through the product design process, at some point it becomes necessary to begin prototyping concepts. Nothing helps bring an idea from concept to creation faster than the relatively new technology of 3D printing. Here at Goddard we use our 3D printing capability to create functional models in order to verify or test various concepts before manufacturing.
Brainstorming an idea can send our engineers to some pretty far out places, but we’re not astronauts. But what if we were? Would we still be able to utilize the capability of our rapid prototyping techniques in orbit and what would be some of the benefits?
Made In Space has recently asked themselves these same questions and has since partnered with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center to develop a 3D printer that is scheduled to be sent up to the International Space Station in the summer of 2014. The group includes engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs who are diligently working towards building a business around building additive manufacturing technologies for space. Made In Space is currently researching materials and techniques to best suited for the zero gravity environment. Some of their most recent testing was done aboard modified Boeing 727 planes flying parabolic flight paths in order to simulate microgravity.
So why have this technology in orbit? Well, if you don’t remember the terrifying scene from Apollo 13, imagine being in orbit and something breaks; now what? The answer, up until recently, has been to either “jerry rig” a solution or prepare for death. With a 3D printer onboard, astronauts could design and print the exact parts needed for any situation; tools, fixtures, etc. Other benefits include being able to build larger, more delicate structures that are optimized for space and not over-manufactured to survive the forces of launch or our gravity.
The technology of 3D printing is certainly amazing, but when applied to the problems faced during and through space travel, it becomes out of this world.
Jr. Industrial Designer, Goddard Inc. 03/10/14
Thanks to the Made in Space crew for the great photos. Want to know more about them? http://www.madeinspace.us/
YouTube - NASA interview about 3D printing: http://youtu.be/Uy11alCPe60