A company Falcon 9 rocket SpaceX took off on Sunday, September 21, early in the morning to the international space station carrying a Dragon capsule first 3D printer for astronauts in orbit, once launch would be delayed for one day because of the inclement weather that suffered from the coast of Florida.
The 3D printer has been developed by Made in Space, a California firm. The device is more robust than conventional models, to withstand the pressure of the takeoff, and meet NASA safety standards. The space agency is working on that someday the astronauts can manufacture spare parts that need. At the moment, it's a technology test with views to send a model bigger and better the coming year.
More than one month after the launch into space of the first printer 3D, two executives of the company ' Made in Space', Jason Dunn (Chief Technology Officer and co-founder of the firm) and Brad Kohlenberg (development engineer), have made statements to the Hubble Hangouts YouTube Channel and the NBC News, merced is has learned that more details about the project and its evolution.
In the year 2011, an earlier version of the 3D printer was tested in a NASA reduced gravity aircraft, ironically named by that circumstance 'Vomit Comet', to prove that it could work in a microgravity environment. It was an important step, since the machine was designed specifically for operation in conditions of zero gravity.
According to executives of ' Made in Space', although you want to believe or not, real plastic extrusion is itself to work in zero gravity, but problems with the belts and gears that are used to control the actual position of the device may occur. It must ensure, therefore, that do not float in zero gravity.
The company was expected to initially send a normal 3D printer to the international space station, so that anyone could send their schemes in an e-mail and print them there.
Get placed on the space station a 3D printer as soon as possible was the goal of ' Made in Space', which proved more than one dozen different printers on flights under microgravity conditions and then built some new printers for your model. Through that process, he accumulated more than three hours of zero gravity. He discovered that none of the commercial printers would run. They had to modify them in a meaningful way to achieve thermal and mechanical adjustments all the things that one could imagine. But above that, just to build a 3D printer that could survive the launch to the international space station, and to satisfy all the safety requirements for work at the station. Degassing, for example, could be harmful to the crew.
Thus, ' Made in Space' had to go the way of developing a new type of printer. One that is much more rugged and reliable, which is very safe and is very easy to use. In fact, there is only one button on the totality of the printer, and that is "on" switch. Everything else is controlled from its station on Earth, based in Mountainview, California. So, in fact, the 3D printer works by remote control.
3D printing opens a new potentially revolutionary era in space exploration. With sufficient time and appropriate tests, we might see one day the resupply of the international space station with materials for printing in 3D rather than spare parts.
So far, there has only been a way to get to place the hardware in space, and has been send in rockets, “said Dunn. And now, with the 3D Printer made in space, there is a new way of gathering there hardware. Simply attach the digital file for our 3D printer in the email and print it. This is a paradigm shift.
Of course, a 3D printer cannot print something out of nothing. Raw materials are needed in order to print. It is difficult to see exactly the advantage of having a 3D printer when the same amount of mass should be removed regardless. But in accordance with ' Made in Space', is not much of a problem as you might think.
Even if you have to send the raw material, it is still beneficial, because we must not design the hardware to survive the launch toward the space station; removed the requirement of having to support several times the force of gravity and all those vibrations and loads. So you have to imagine something that just has to work in zero gravity, but you don't even have to support its own weight. So just enough matter shipping raw material in its most condensed form.
Even the shipping of raw material condensed will extend for a longer period and based still on the Earth. The company's vision is the use of resources in the field, to allow the international space station, and possibly on Mars colonies to survive outside our planet.
What technicians of ' Made in Space' began to analyze in the past two years was: How can really produce the raw material for the 3D printer in the space station? And initiated the development of a new piece of technology called Redo (redo). Redo part of the fact that is can take a printed piece in 3D and remake it, turn it back into raw material for other prints.
Once they started to dive in this problem, they realized that the space station generates a large amount of plastic waste. A large amount of food is packaged in polyethylene bags. The packing of all these things is actually a polymer, and they have designed to Redo so it can take advantage of these wastes of plastic on the space station and also become strand.
But the advantages of 3D printing do not end with the international space station. The European Space Agency (ESA) has already explored the possibility of printing in 3D for the construction of a lunar base.
Reid Wiseman astronaut already expressed his enthusiasm for the 3D printer until began their mission aboard the station: "imagine that you are going to Mars and instead of packing 20,000 spare parts--he said, are enough a few kilograms of 'ink'. Now you don't even need to know which part to be broken. Only you need to print this part".
Small 3D printers could print up to pieces for the largest. Someday there may be huge in orbit 3D printers to build spacecraft for missions to the space. The raw materials or minerals are supplied by the asteroids or moon. Opportunities are very vast.
There are problems. Fundamental is that the structures built for use in space must be very brief, but as far as we know that all 3D Prints has been tough. A rough surface is easier to break, or become a diffuse structure of dust and dirt.
According to the European Space Agency, traditionally materials used in space have to be of the best possible finish, no loose particles or pores that can develop cracks. They have to be clean, according to surgical standards. The electronics of delicate satellite optics in the past has been fatally damaged by pollution particles or outgassing.
The European Space Agency, as any professional aerospace organization, recognizes the fact that technology still has a long way to go in terms of issues such as degassing.
The technical made in Space have had to deal with this problem in various ways. The fact is that they could not have a printer that was breaking small pieces of plastic and leaving them floating around. If at the time when the astronaut opens the door of the printer strand pieces out floating, they get stuck in all the little nooks and crannies of the space station. So they have built a very sophisticated kind of control of the environment. It is something that can recycle harmful gas that is generated by the polystyrene that leaves an impression, and also captures the particles and controls the temperature of the printed part. So the optimal way to get a very good 3d print results is the volume control, the values of proper temperature and the like.
Any that are the difficulties, it is important to remember that 3D printing is a relatively new technology. As time goes, the quality and the accuracy should improve. Even if printing 3D in zero-gravity turns out to be a record in 3d printing, something finer and quality models will raise.