October 20, 2013 – We are only a few months from seeing the first 3D printer deployed to the International Space Station (ISS) with the goal of being able to fabricate components of use to the human crew on board. The projected date for the arrival is June 2014.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is heading up the AMAZE Project. AMAZE stands for Additive Manufacturing Aiming Towards Zero Waste and Efficient Production of High-Tech Metal Products.
The immediate goal of 3D printing in space is focused on creating parts and tools for use on the ISS. The ultimate goal will be to construct satellites from on board materials or build and assemble the technology for human Deep Space flights. By manufacturing in low-Earth orbit human space missions to the Moon will be far less expensive to mount. No more need for large payload launches from the gravity-well of Earth.
AMAZE will operate in zero gravity unlike the 3D printers we currently use here on Earth. The project is being supported by 28 industrial partners who hope to learn how to create space-ready tools and objects by blending metals in new ways not possible on the Earth’s surface.
The evolution of 3D printers has moved beyond plastic and organic materials to now include metals. The different requirements for these materials involves incorporating lasers to heat the materials to temperatures as high as 3,500 Celsius (6,332 Fahrenheit) degrees. The type of materials that will be used include steel, aluminum, titanium, gold and silver. The 3D printer will translate computer designs to finished products. Although not yet the equivalent of a Star Trek replicator, AMAZE will be the first real step made by humans in achieving that type of technology.