The German Federal Service for Research and Testing Materials (BAM) successfully managed to print metal tools on a 3D printer in space. Using innovative technology, astronauts will be able to receive equipment using 3D printing in zero-gravity conditions.
Last year, researchers tested ceramic 3D printing on a spaceship using a vacuum system so that the layer of printing powder did not decay. The application of the additive production process helped to print out the metal, which is a great progress today.
“We used a completely new technology to print a wrench under zero gravity during our last flight in March,” project manager Jens Gunster said.
A successful result of the printer’s operation in the absence of gravity is a step towards the widespread use of 3D printing technology in space exploration . Such an opportunity will reduce the cost of flights: when calculating fuel, any equipment on the ship is important, since it adds weight. A relatively inexpensive 3D-printers and materials can be used to print the necessary equipment as soon as it is needed.
In the future, it will be possible to combine an autonomous 3D printing system with other technologies for converting resources from the surface of the Moon or Mars to materials for 3D printing.
3D printing has already been used onboard the ISS to create some details, but the metal has not yet been printed , because it requires powder. In this case, the powder layer must be stable at zero gravity, since it is melted by means of a laser. The absence of gravity is not the only obstacle in this case: the metallic powder is a flammable and explosive substance.
The researchers developed a method using a gas atmosphere. With the help of a special pump, the team led nitrogene through the layers of powder, which helped to make them stable and, as a result, led to successful results.