A team at the Munich University of Applied Sciences are developing an additive manufacturing 3D printing process that makes use of zero gravity for the production of structures.
The AIMIS-FYT (Additive Manufacturing in Space - Fly your Thesis) team is working with the European Space Agency (ESA) on the technology and have tested the system on zero gravity flights (above).
Spacecraft are developed on Earth, tested, fully assembled and transported in one piece by a launch vehicle to their respective places of operation. Each component must be designed to withstand the high loads of the launch phase. In most cases, in addition to complex test procedures, this leads to an oversized structure of the spacecraft components, because in orbit they experience only a fraction of the stresses they must endure during rocket launch.
The maximum take-off mass required for transport with the launch vehicle and the volume of satellites, for example, result in high space transport costs. At the same time, space in the rocket is restricted, which limits the design of the spacecraft from the outset. The search is on for processes that expand the possibilities of future space missions, save resources and reduce costs.
One possible approach is to manufacture spacecraft components directly in orbit using 3D printing. The elements needed for space travel do not have to meet the high launch requirements, but can be tailored precisely to the mission requirements. The process is being researched on parabolic flights in zero gravity supported by a uEye CP industrial USB3 camera from IDS.
The team developed a 3D printer with an extruder through which a liquid photopolymer can be dispensed.
"Our 3D printing process can directly print three-dimensional structures in space using a UV-curing adhesive or potting compound," said Torben Schaefer at AIMIS-FYT.