After the success of the history-making Rosetta comet landing yesterday, the European Space Agency isn’t showing any signs of slowing down as plans to send Europe’s first 3D printer to the ISS are set for next year.
Designed and built in Italy, the printer will be put to the test on ESA astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti’s six month Futura mission which launches on 23rd November.
The printer, POP3D Portable On-Board Printer is a discreet, cube shaped machine requiring minimal power and little manual assistance to print objects with biodegradable plastic.
Funded by Italy’s ASI space agency, the printer will take approximately an hour and a half to produce a single plastic part which will then be sent back to earth for comparison with identical prints produced on the ground.
“It is very promising for reducing costs particularly for complex structures and reducing lead time significantly,” Steffen Beyer, Head of Materials and Process Technology at Airbus Defence and Space commented. “In the case of a complex injector of a rocket engine, we are able to take the total number of parts needed down from around 250 down to one or two; that represents a revolution in design and manufacturing.”
At a presentation on 3D printing for space at ESA’s technical centre in the Netherlands, over 350 experts from Europe joined to discuss the future of 3D printing in both orbit and on the ground manufacturing.
“There is big potential all along the value chain, to save cost and mass,” explained Reinhard Schlitt, heading OHB’s Engineering Services. “But right now the way parts are being produced in various different ways. As a satellite manufacturer, we need common standards in place so we can compare competing supplier parts on a like-for-like basis. Europe does have a lead in this technology – the latest laser machines are coming from here for export to the US and China – so we should build on that.”