ESA looks to the future of 3D printing in space

European Space Agency materials specialist Tommaso Ghidini has given a TEDxESA talk on 3D printing for space, explaining how the process can create much more complex shapes than standard manufacturing.

This means that we can make what he calls “bionic” parts, often organic in appearance.

Software allows designers “to put material where the loads are, like Mother Nature does”, Ghidini says.

The parts can be lighter, but stronger and better-performing as they follow design rules similar to biological evolution.

He explained the  ways ESA is researching 3D printing for space, including the idea of one day printing a Moon base.

While 3D printing has lots of potential for making parts and tools on long space voyages, it is not entirely straightforward as low gravity presents specific challenges to the process.

We reported last year on a NASA project that sent a specially designed 3D printer to the International Space Station to be put through its paces. The machine, designed built by the company Made In Space, uses a slightly different process to Earth-based printers.

The company is tight-lipped about how it works but says using surface tension was key to making the layers of plastic stick together in microgravity.

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