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NASA Testing 3D Printers in Space To Build Spacecraft and Satellites

by on September 22, 2012

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Spiderfab is a new concept introduced by NASA and Tethers Unlimited that could change the way that space craft are built in the near future. In theory it will be more efficient to build large structures in space rather than trying to find a launch vehicle large enough to accommodate such an undertaking of this scale. It will also be ideal for a situation in which the exact specifications of the parts needed is not known before liftoff.

SpiderFab Concept

Tethers Unlimited was awarded $100,000 to develop the concept of space 3d printing further.

Robert Hoyt, CEO of Tethers Unlimited said, “We’d like someday to be able to have a spacecraft create itself entirely from scratch, but realistically that’s quite a ways out.”  ”That’s still science fiction.”

MADE IN SPACE

Another private company called Made In Space has been studying the process of using  additive manufacturing techniques.  They have successfully printed tools in zero gravity. The next step, space.

“3D printing and in-space manufacturing will dramatically change the way we look at space exploration, commercialization, and mission design today.” said Aaron Kemmer, CEO and Co-Founder of MADE IN SPACE. “The possibilities range from building on-demand parts for human missions to building large space habitats that are optimized for space.”

Once the printers and material are set in space, missions will have the freedom to build what they need when they need it and not have to rely on transport from Earth.

The company flew the printers in order to better understand how 3D printing works in a space-like environment.

“Based on past research, we already knew that 3D printing works in zero-g to some degree. The question we are answering is how well does it work.” said Jason Dunn, CTO and co-founder.

NASA could use this technology to build space craft, outposts and probes in the future. This would cut down the cost of launches tremendously. They need a way to get the materials to the printers though, but it won’t come from Earth.

Researchers at USC NASA-funded professors Behrokh Khoshnevis, Madhu Thangavelu, Neil Leach, and Anders Carlson are working on being able to convert lunar-soil into a building material that could be used to build living quarters, landing and launch pads on the moon. Using local materials would cut the costs down dramatically, breaking down barriers to colonies on other planets.

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