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3D Printing in November 2019

We begin our tour of the wonderful world of 3D printing at Relativity Space’s HQ in Los Angeles. Wired recently featured Relativity Space, the startup making waves in the 3D printed rocket industry. Indeed, “Relativity Space may have the biggest metal 3D printers in the world, and they’re cranking out parts to reinvent the rocket industry – both on Earth – and on Mars.”

Relativity Space’s Chief Executive and Cofounder Tim Ellis, 29, “wants to combine 3D printing and artificial intelligence to do for the rocket what Henry Ford did for the automobile…Relativity wants to not just build rockets, but to build them on Mars…with robots [and 3D printing.]”

At Relativity Space’s Los Angeles HQ, there are “four of the largest metal 3D in the world, churning out rocket parts day and night. The latest model of the company’s proprietary printer, dubbed Stargate, stands 30 feet tall and has two massive robotic arms protruding like tentacles from the cylindrical machine. The Stargate printers will manufacture about 95 percent, by mass, of Relativity’s first rocket, named Terran-1. The only parts which won’t be printed are the electronics, cables, and a handful of moving parts and rubber gaskets.”

In rethinking rocket design, Relativity Space says Terran-1 “will have 100 times fewer parts than a comparable rocket….by consolidating parts and optimizing them for 3D printing, Ellis says Relativity will be able to go from raw materials to the launch pad in just 60 days – in theory, anyway. Relativity hadn’t yet assembled a full Terran-1 and doesn’t expect the rocket to fly until 2021 at the earliest.”

As for printing the components, the Stargate printers are ideal for printing large components quickly, but for parts requiring more precision, “such as the rocket’s engine, Relativity uses the same commercially available metal 3D printers other aerospace companies use. These printers use a different printing technique, in which a laser welds together layers of ultra-fine stainless steel dust.”

As Ellis explains: “fully assembled, Terran-1 will stand about 100 feet tall, and be capable of delivering satellites weighing up to 2,800 pounds to low Earth orbit. This puts it above small satellite launchers like Rocket Lab’s Electron but well under the payload capacity of massive rockets like SpaceX’s Falcon 9. This will make Terran-1 particularly well-suited to carrying medium-sized satellites.”

The intersection of the space and additive manufacturing industries was also apparent this month aboard the International Space Station. Extreme Tech reports on a recent development carried out by Russian cosmonauts on the Russian side of the International Space Station up in Earth orbit.

Apparently, these Russian cosmonauts were able to 3D print synthetic meat in space! Prior to the success of this experiment, the “options for artificial meat were limited to plant-based materials from brands like Impossible and Beyond. The next step would be to generate real meat with the aid of bioprinting.”

This is where Israeli startup Aleph Farms comes in.

Aleph Farms “has partnered with several 3D printing companies to conduct this experiment with Russian cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station.” Aleph Farms claims “this is the first time anyone has produced synthetic meat in space.”

In order to create this synthetic meat, Aleph Farms’ process involves “mimicking the natural muscle-tissue regeneration process in cows. If you’ve ever eaten a bad steak, you know it’s not just the animals cells which matter – it’s also the way in which they are organized.”

Aleph Farms’ “process results in a more realistic piece of slaughter-free meat. Getting a meaty texture right has been a challenge for lab-grown meat, and doing this work in space could help inform how we do it back here on Earth.”

As for the cosmonauts’ experiment, they used a “printer developed by Russia-based 3D Bioprinting Solutions. The animal cells were mixed with growth factors to create the ‘bio-ink’ for the printer. The printer lays down layer after layer of cells, which grow into a small piece of muscle tissue. The company says bioprinting meat in space has the potential to be much faster than it is on Earth. Without gravity, the biomaterial can grow in all directions without a support structure. On Earth, a lattice is required and means you can only print from one side at a time.” Up in space, the process can be made far more efficient.

Of course, financially viable 3D printed meat on Earth is a long way off, “but the costs of space travel are already astronomical. It would behoove interstellar explorers on extended missions to produce some of their meat in 3D printers.”

However, “Aleph Farms still aims to begin expanding its beef printing techniques here on Earth, paving the way for the bioprinting and selling of meat requiring far less water and farmland than traditional cow meat.”

Finally, 3D printing not only helped industries in physical space but also in the mental space as well. Dezeen reports on a recent project developed by Japanese design studio Nendo. Apparently, Nendo envisioned an “alternative to the tricky task of nurturing a bonsai tree” and therefore created Grid-Bonsai.

Grid-Bonsai is “a 3D printed version of the plant owners can prune to their liking. The traditional Japanese art form of bonsai involves using cultivation techniques to produce small plants in pots, which imitate the appearance of full-scale trees. Bonsai artists shape their trees by trimming the leaves and pruning and bending branches, as well as adding decorative elements like moss and stones to the soil.”

This art takes an intense amount of focus and effort, of course. “Maintenance of the tree requires sunlight exposure and constant watering, and often entails a substantial amount of professional expertise, which presents a challenge for retailers…Nendo explains it is still very rare to find [bonsai trees] outside of Japan due to agricultural import restrictions. As a result, the popularity of Bonsai-growing among young people and overseas has diminished.”

This is where Nendo comes in.

The studio “aims to tackle these challenges with a 3D printed version of the bonsai tree, which takes the form of an interactive puzzle-like object.” This Grid-Bonsai has been specially designed so its owner can easily trim it, “using a pair of bonsai scissors, just like a natural plant.”

Grid-Bonsai is also “designed to be user-friendly and suitable for beginners. As Nendo’s bonsais aren’t living plants, there are no import and maintenance restrictions, making over the counter sales easy both domestically and abroad.”

Currently, the Grid-Bonsai “comes in seven different shape and sizes, all referencing typical forms of the bonsai tree. Each 3D printed tree is able to be customized from its square-shaped extruded form into a smooth, rounded design.”

Tune in next month for more 3D printing news!

Image Courtesy of Relativity Space and Wired

Quotes Courtesy of Relativity Space, Wired, Extreme Tech, Nendo, and Dezeen.

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