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Building Space Stuff in 3DThe future of space travel requires new technologies and additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D printing, may hold the key.
The European Space Agency is investigates how the 3D printers and 3D printing technology could transform everything we think about space missions. Here's a look at 10 ways 3D printing could change space travel, courtesy of ESA scientists.
FIRST STOP: The 'Impossible' Made Real
'Impossible' Items Made PossibleSlide 2 of 22
'Impossible' Items Made PossibleOne big advantage of 3D printing is the tech's ability to manufacture hard-to-build items. For example, a 3D-printed titanium lattice ball like the one shown here has a hollow interior with a complex internal geometry.
"This design is a perfect example of additive manufacturing (AM)," ESA materials engineer Benoit Bonvoisin said in a statement. "These balls are hollow with a complex external geometry, making them incredibly light while remaining stiff. They simply could not have been manufactured in a single part, conventionally." [3D Printing In Space: A New Dimension (Photo Gallery)]
The lightness and stiffness of the ball makes it a good material for building structures like ultralight satellites. However, residue from the metallic beads used for cleaning of the 3d-printed object remains trapped inside, so the cleaning process needs refinement.
NEXT: Computer Designs See Real World UsesSlide 3 of 22
Computer Designs Translated to the Real WorldSlide 4 of 22
Computer Designs Translated to the Real WorldDesigns created with a computer can spring to life using 3D printing. The process of "additive manufacturing" (AM) produces items by printing layers on top of each other, instead of the typical carving out of a single block done in "subtractive manufacturing." Creators can produce anything suitable for the printing process by designing in the computer, which then digitally slices the virtual model apart to plan its physical construction. The printing can utilize melting powder or wire materials, in plastic or metal.
NEXT: New Rules for DesignSlide 5 of 22
New Rules for DesignSlide 6 of 22
New Rules for DesignAdditive manufacturing can turn the current rules for design on their heads. Traditional design rule often involve figuring out how to give a cutting tool to access to the bulk part, removing surplus material to reveal the final item, explained Laurent Pambaguian of ESA's Materials Technology Section. Additive manufacturing doesn't do away with all restrictions, but it allows people to move away from the traditional "design for manufacturing" mentality and replace it with "design for need."
NEXT: Low Volume=Low OverheadSlide 7 of 22
Low Volume Means Low OverheadSlide 8 of 22