Metal is 3D Printed on the Space Station

S-curve 3D printing on the ISS

I have always wanted a 3D printer but never quite found a good enough reason to get one. Seeing that NASA are now 3D printing metal is even more tantalising than a plastic 3D printer. However, thinking about it, surely it is just a computer controlled soldering iron! I’m sure it’s far more advanced than that! Turns out that the first print really wasn’t much to right home about, just an s-curve deposited onto a metal plate! It does however prove and demonstrate the principle that a laser can liquify stainless steel and then deposit it precisely in a weightless environment. 

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NASA Tests a 3D Printed Aluminum Rocket Nozzle

The RAMFIRE nozzle performs a hot fire test at Marshall’s East test area stand 115. Credit: NASA

When it comes to the current era of space exploration, one of the most important trends is the way new technologies and processes are lowering the cost of sending crews and payloads to space. Beyond the commercial space sector and the development of retrievable and reusable rockets, space agencies are also finding new ways to make space more accessible and affordable. This includes NASA, which recently built and tested an aluminum rocket engine nozzle manufactured using their new Reactive Additive Manufacturing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (RAMFIRE) process.

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This Moon Rover Wheel Could be 3D Printed on the Moon

NASA mechanical design engineer Richard Hagen, left, and ORNL researcher Michael Borish inspect a lunar rover wheel prototype that was 3D printed at the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

When you think about sending missions to the Moon, every single gram counts on launch day. Therefore, it makes sense to live off the land when you arrive with in-situ resource utilization. For example, what if you could fly a rover without wheels and 3D print them out of lunar regolith when you get there?

It just might happen.

Researchers used a 3D printer to build the same design for a wheel that will be part of the upcoming NASA VIPER rover. It was done using additive manufacturing (another word for 3D printing), melting metal powder and laying down and bonding a large number of successive thin layers of materials into the designed shape.

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Future Astronauts Might be Able to 3D Print Their own Spacesuits and Parts as Needed

One of the best motivators to solve a problem is to experience it yourself.  Dr. Bonnie Dunbar happened to have just such an experience. She is a former NASA astronaut and is now a professor of Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M. While she was in the astronaut corps, she realized that some of her fellow astronauts couldn’t fit in an Extra Vehicular Activity suit – more commonly known as a spacesuit.  So she decided not only to create one for the individuals with the original problem but to create a process by which any other astronaut launched on any future mission can have a spacesuit tailored to their own specific body. And now, her former employer (NASA) is funding her and her lab to complete a feasibility study of this customization process as part of the recently announced NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

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Astronaut Blood and Urine Could Help Build Structures on the Moon

Thinking outside the box has always been a strong suit of space exploration.  Whether taking a picture of the Earth in a sunbeam or attempting to land a rocket on a floating ship, trying new things has been a continual theme for those interested in learning more about the universe.  Now, a team from the University of Manchester has come up with an outside-the-box solution that could help solve the problem of building infrastructure in space – use astronauts themselves as bioreactors to create the building blocks of early colonies.

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NASA Sends a 3D Printer for Lunar Regolith and More to the ISS

One of the reasons the ISS is still alive and kicking is that it offers a unique environment for testing that is available nowhere, either on the Earth or off of it.  Plenty of science experiments want to take advantage of that uniqueness.  This week, a fresh crop of experiments was delivered to the ISS aboard a Northrop Grumman Cygnus resupply craft.  They range from 3D printers to a high school science experiment with mold, and now they each have the opportunity to make use of the ISS’s microgravity environment.

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The Lunar Lantern Could be a Beacon for Humanity on the Moon

In October of 2024, NASA’s Artemis Program will return astronauts to the surface of the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era. In the years and decades that follow, multiple space agencies and commercial partners plan to build the infrastructure that will allow for a long-term human presence on the Moon. An important part of these efforts involves building habitats that can ensure the astronauts’ health, safety, and comfort in the extreme lunar environment.

This challenge has inspired architects and designers from all over the world to create innovative and novel ideas for lunar living. One of these is the Lunar Lantern, a base concept developed by ICON (an advanced construction company based in Austin, Texas) as part of a NASA-supported project to build a sustainable outpost on the Moon. This proposal is currently being showcased as part of the 17th International Architecture Exhibition at the La Biennale di Venezia museum in Venice, Italy.

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Relativity Space Gets a Huge Investment to Take on SpaceX With Reusable Rockets

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and that competition is a great way to foster progress and innovation. If these truisms are to be believed, then the NewSpace industry is destined to benefit from the presence of Relativity Space, a commercial space company based in Los Angeles. At the same time, SpaceX founder Elon Musk should be flattered that Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone (founders of Relativity Space) are following his example.

Roughly six years ago, Ellis and Noone founded Relativity for the purpose of using new technologies to disrupt the aerospace industry. Earlier this week (Tuesday, June 8th), the company announced that it had raised an additional $650 million in private capital. This money will go towards the development of rockets that are entirely 3D-printed and fully reusable, as well as the creation of a new class of heavy launch vehicles known as the “Terran-R.”

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How Would We Do Surgery in Space?

Virtually rendered cutaway view of a postulated traumapod surgical module. Multiple layers of thermal and radiation shielding are visible. A four?armed surgical robot is situated within the module. The patient is tethered to the operating table, while the assistant, using a touchscreen console, is tethered to the module structure via a movable chair. Illustration by T. Trapp (https://www.planvis.co.uk) CC BY-SA 4.0

Any mission to Mars requires deeper planning than missions to the ISS or the Moon. Based purely on the length of the mission, contingencies branch outwards in complex logistical pathways. What if there’s an accident? What if someone’s appendix bursts?

And what if surgery is needed?

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