A 3D printer successfully makes small space shuttle models in microgravity

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have successfully tested a next-generation microgravity 3D printer called SpaceCAL. The tests were carried out as part of the Galactic Virgin 07 mission, a manned suborbital spaceflight that launched on Monday (June 8).

During its 140-second test, SpaceCAL 3D printed four items from a liquid plastic called PEGDA. These included models of space shuttles and small tugboats called “Benchys,” which are typically used as benchmarks (hence the name) to judge the quality and performance of a printer.

“SpaceCAL has performed well under microgravity conditions in past tests on parabolic flights, but it still had something to prove,” said Taylor Waddell, a Ph.D. student. and a participating researcher on the project, i statement. “This latest mission, funded through NASA’s Flight Opportunities program and supported by Berkeley Engineering and the Berkeley Space Center, allowed us to validate the readiness of this 3D printing technology for space travel.”

3D printing technologies have boomed over the last decade, changing manufacturing forever. Early models were printed primarily using 3D pixels called voxels, which are built up very minutely – point by point; layer by layer – into a 3D structure. Over the past five years, scientists have further advanced the capabilities of this technology, making more sophisticated and creative 3D parts made from materials all the way from metals. biomaterials.

Related: Future lunar astronauts may print their supplies using lunar minerals

Hayden Taylor and his group at Berkeley developed SpaceCAL’s predecessor on the ground, simply called “calculated axial lithography” (which is where the CAL comes from). in 2017. The scientists aimed to address the lack of 3D printing techniques capable of printing complex, customized 3D geometries in a single printing step.

Instead of building structures from the ground up, CAL used light to induce chemical hardening of the projected patterns in a photosensitive resin, “such that in a single unit operation with one development step, a 3D part of an arbitrary geometry defined by the user.”

Curing of the design occurs as a result of a polymerization reaction, in which chemical building blocks found in the resin link into a chain, or polymer, under light, resulting in the precise and rapid creation of complex, high-resolution 3D structures.

CAL (and SpaceCAL) can create complex parts in as little as 20 seconds – a significant improvement over printers that normally require hours to create similar objects. The team has also demonstrated the system’s versatility, successfully printing with more than 60 different materials, such as silicone, glass composites and various biomaterials, according to the press release.

Due to its ability to work effectively in microgravity environments, where many other 3D printers face challenges, CAL and SpaceCAL are particularly promising for space exploration applications. In fact, low-gravity environments may give 3D printing an edge because the lack of gravity minimizes issues related to material flow and placement, improves some material properties, and can improve design freedom.

“With CAL, we were able to demonstrate – a first for those [first] zero-G missions and now on this spaceflight—that we can print parts in microgravity that’s not possible on Earth,” Waddell said.

These developments are exciting as 3D printing is likely to be an integral part of future space missions. NASA and the European Space Agency have already started pushing ahead with plans for 3D printing on the moon and in the International Space Station.

“You can reduce that lift, do these missions faster and reduce risk by bringing in manufacturing technologies,” Waddell said.

This could provide a way for astronauts to independently produce building materials, tools, medical equipment and spare parts on site. “If your spacecraft is breaking down, you can print O-rings or mechanical devices or even tools,” Waddell said.

To progress i 3d bioprinting, this could also mean replacement organs or tissues. “CAL is also able to repair the team,” Waddell said. “We can print tooth replacements, skin grafts or lenses, or personalized things in emergency medicine for astronauts, which is also very important in these missions.”

Related Stories:

— 3D printed hearts on ISS could help astronauts travel to deep space

— India launches the country’s 1st 3D printed rocket engine

— The US economy will benefit from NASA’s investment in 3D printable super alloys

But 3D printed objects in space could make their way to our planet to serve people living on earth. “The long-term goal is to print organs up in space with CAL, then bring them back down to Earth,” said Waddell.

“These experiments are very much aimed at pushing technology to benefit everyone,” he continued. “Even though it’s about space, there are always many ways it can benefit people back here on Earth.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *