Two 3-D replicas of a glove worn by European Space Agency astronaut Hans Schlegel. The one on right is lifesize and the other at one-tenth scale. The models were created "using fused deposition modelling of thermoplastic", ESA stated, at a mechanical workshop at the Netherlands' European Space Research and Technology Centre. Credit: ESA-Anneke Le Floc'h
Star Trek replicators, here we come. The European Space Agency has released a list of how 3-D printing could change space exploration forever. And lest you think this type of printing is far in the future, images like those disembodied hands above show you it’s come a long way. Those are 3-D replicas of a glove worn by European Space Agency astronaut Hans Schlegal.
The applications range from the small — making lighter valves, for example — to ambitious projects such as constructing a moon base. Below are some ESA images showing uses for 3-D printing, and if they’ve missed some, be sure to let us know in the comments.
Two valves — which is the 3-D printed one? It’s the one on the right. The original (left) is a water on-off valve (Woov) flown on the European Space Agency’s Columbus module on the International Space Station. The replica is 40 percent less massive. Credit: ESA
Artist’s conception of a lunar dome based on 3-D printing. Credit: ESA/Foster + Partners
A 3-D printed showerhead injector that apparently saves on time in the normal manufacturing process: usually it takes “more than 100 separate welds to produce”, according to the European Space Agency. The holes, however, are made by secondary processing. Credit: ESA
A closeup of a titanium lattice ball made using a 3-D printer. According to the European Space Agency, the hollow spheres have a “complex external geometry” that cannot be made with the usual manufacturing processes. Credit: ESA
By Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.