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‘First’ Zero Gravity 3D Printer Under Development for Use in Space

Irish Tech News reports on a project spearheaded by Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA).

This project involves developing “the world’s first large-scale, zero gravity 3D printing machine for use on the International Space Station as part of a wider European consortium, which includes German aerospace company Sonaca Group, BEEVERYCREATIVE, a Portuguese 3D printer provider, and OHB, a leading German Space and Technology Group.”

This project, dubbed Project Imperial, “will draw on the expert knowledge of Dr. Sean Lyons, Dean of Faculty of Engineering and Informatics.”  As Dr. Lyons explains: “Traditionally, 3D printers are based around simple materials and applications. They might look the part but they’re not hard or strong enough to be fully functional. Using cutting-edge material science, we’re going to design components that can be modified or configured for printing in zero gravity conditions on board the International Space Station.”

Dr. Lyons elaborates: “There are several applications for this technology, imagine a door handle breaks on the ISS, it’s not feasible to send a payload from France all the way to the International Space Station with a spare handle. Through Project Imperial, the astronauts on board the ISS will be able to print parts as and when they are required. They’ll also be able to print bespoke parts: say if an astronaut broke their arm and needed a cast plaster, they’ll have the capability to print it in space themselves in-situ.”

On top of these obvious applications, Dr. Lyons and his team are also considering other applications “such as where printing in zero gravity gives benefit to the material properties, which might be useful on Earth.”  Dr. Lyons adds: “Some cell scaffolds could be printed in a zero-gravity environment and then brought back to earth and implanted into a human. They would perform better than they would if they were printed under gravity constraints on Earth. There are loads of potential applications for this.”

“Project Imperial is scheduled to run for two years – with the payload deployment expected by 2021.”

Image and Quotes Courtesy of Irish Tech News

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