When something breaks in space, ordering a replacement part can be an astronomical inconvenience. Yet, what if astronauts could simply produce the components they needed on demand? NASA is currently testing a new breed of 3D printers that can create pieces of equipment in low parabolic flights on Earth – and they hope to one day send the technology to Mars.
NASA’s “additive manufacturing” machines fashion objects layer by layer, eliminating the need to send equipment into orbit. Originally developed a decade ago at the Langley Research Center, Electron Beam Freeform Fabrication (EFB3) uses an electron beam gun, dual wire feed, and computer controls to compose metal elements from “feedstock”, or raw materials. Currently, NASA engineers are working towards improving the technology for use on the International Space Station. If feedstock could be sent into orbit instead of finished equipment it would save space (since it fits easily into cargo holds) and cut down on the overall weight of the payload.
The development of space-based 3D printing not only marks a new era in exploration, but a valuable partnership between NASA and manufacturing companies. Businesses such as the California-based Made in Space, Inc. have been collaborating with NASA for several years to send their printers to the stars.
‘This is exactly the kind of technology we want to capitalize on,’ remarked NASA’s Deputy Administrator, Lori Garver to the Daily Mail. ‘We want to push the technology boundary, not only with improvements of our own systems, but it is our job to also see that growth in the private sector.’
Soon, science fiction could become reality with the creation of these advanced machines!
Via the Daily Mail