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International Space Station to Get 3D Printer

The International Space Station (ISS) will soon be able to produce metal additive manufacturing (AM) tools, mounting interfaces, and mechanical parts, thanks to the European Space Agency (ESA). The exercise will demonstrate technology in orbit and pave the way for future use on the Moon and Mars.

The 180 kg printer can print parts with a volume of 9 cm high and 5 cm wide. The process lasts about 40 hours. Once installed at the ISS, the 3D printer will manufacture 4 metal samples that will be sent back to Earth for analysis. The Earth-based engineering model of the printer will also produce the same specimens for comparative analysis.


The four metal test samples.

“In order to evaluate the effects of microgravity, ESA and Danish Technical University will perform mechanical strength and bending tests and microstructural analysis on the parts made in space and compare them to the other specimens,” Sébastien Girault, metal 3D-printer system engineer at Airbus, explained.

“Increasing the level of maturity and automation of additive manufacturing in space could be a game changer for supporting life beyond Earth,” Gwenaëlle Aridon, Airbus Space Assembly lead engineer, said. “Thinking beyond the ISS, the applications could be amazing. Imagine a metal printer using transformed regolith [moondust] or recycled materials to build a lunar base!”

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