New Space and Tech

3-D Metal Printing Revolution in Space

By Keith Cowing
October 16, 2013
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3-D Metal Printing Revolution in Space
3-D Printing at NASA MSFC

A metal 3D-printing revolution is entering space. AMAZE is a recently announced project that aims to perfect the printing of space-quality metal components on Earth and beyond within five years.
3D printing builds a solid object from a series of layers, each one printed on top of the last. This ‘additive manufacturing’ technique produces very complex structures with minimal waste and maximum flexibility.

Never before have titanium structures been so flexible. Leaving traditional casting techniques aside, the AMAZE team printed its logo in titanium as an intricate net shaped to millimetre precision. The project is working with materials that can withstand temperatures up to 3500*C. Pieces like the example in this photo were shown in the London Science Museum, UK, on 15 October, where international experts presented the world’s largest metal 3D-printing project, lead by ESA and the EU.

AMAZE – Additive Manufacturing Aiming Towards Zero Waste & Efficient Production of High-Tech Metal Products – involves 28 industrial partners across Europe.

Most of the work to tune this novel technology for industrial applications on Earth is being done on the ground in laboratories. ‘Factories of the future’ are being set up in Germany, Italy, Norway and the UK. Little-to-no material is wasted and cutting the number of steps in the manufacturing chain offers enormous cost benefits.

Before taking a 3D printer to the International Space Station, ESA will test the technology on parabolic aircraft flights and suborbital rockets to see how weightlessness affects the behaviour of the liquid metals.

View more pictures on Flickr.

Credits: ESA-N. Vicente

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SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.