Why 3D Printing Makes Space Exploration Possible

Posted by Editor On February - 26 - 2017

Why 3D Printing Makes Space Exploration Possible

The recent NASA discovery of seven (yes, seven!) planets that reside in the habitable zone only 40 light years away (read 180 human years to get there) has prompted a surge of new interest in extraterrestrial colonization. This discovery above all others is promise enough for the U.S. to invest in interstellar travel as a reality within our own lifetime. That is to say that people alive today will be, in the very near future, on spaceships traveling to other planets for the purpose of extending human life across the galaxies.

This news about planets orbiting the TRAPPIST-1 dwarf system is ground-breaking in every sense of the term. We now have places to go. That means the means to get there needs to be within our grasp.

To get there is going to require the applied acumen of a multitude of disciplines: mathematics, aeronautics, astronomy, physics, biology, chemistry, and, of course, 3D printing.

Now that NASA has located possible venues within a three-generation enterprise to acquire, the matter of getting there is more about logistics than location. And that is precisely why 3D printing plays such a crucial role.

The reason why is that a key condition in this enterprise is the reproduction of broken parts. Ships taking generations of humans to arrive at a place need the guarantee that they can support their space travel all the way there. Getting to any place over a conditional expanse of space requires this nihilistic expectation for failure to occur and what will need to be done in its event. This statement perhaps bears repeating. Getting from here to there depends on expecting the variety of problems that can occur and one of those realistic problems is the replacement of vital parts. In fact, the more complex the operations, the more critical the whole system depends on the functioning of all its parts. In other words, without 3D printing, long-term space travel is null and void.

in 2016, NASA successfully testfired a 3D-printed rocket engine, culminating in a major step forward in their plans to send humans across vast transverses of space.

This week, one of the principal members of NASA’s advanced exploration team, Acting Manager of Science and Technology Office at Marshall Space Flight Center Raymond ‘Corky’ Clinton, commented on 3D printing in space. In an article on the talk, Clinton described the contingencies necessary for advanced space colonization efforts. Part of the success NASA is looking to achieve is based on achievements already accomplished in their 3D printing trials.

According to the 3D Printing Industry story, “In-space manufacturing is already possible, thanks to space company Made in Space’s 3D printer. This 3D printer is currently on the International Space Station, and there are plans to use it to create fiber optic cables. Using the zero-gravity 3D printer, Made in Space will manufacture fiber optic cables that are too difficult to manufacture back here on earth.”

Using Regolith

Regolith is the bedrock material found on a planet. NASA is already looking at the prospects of using Mars regolith to support future travel elsewhere, and again, this prospect is hinged entirely on the use of 3D printing to manufacture “as you go.” Clinton commented in his talk that there are metals on Mars that can be used as regolith. Reporting in 3D Printing Industry.com: “According to Clinton, NASA views in-space manufacturing as a necessity for advancing space exploration. Clinton states that, “ISM (interspace manufacturing) is a necessary paradigm shift in space operations, not a ‘bonus.’” If the goal is to get to Mars by 2035, Clinton says we, “Have to shift the paradigm right now.”

NASA isn’t the only organization seeking profit from deep space exploration. Companies like Deepspaceindustries.com are looking at regolith as a exploitable resource.

For those interested in being the first to habitat Mars or other Earth-like planets, this is the link for you. We, at 3D Printr Magazine, applaud your courage.