Astronauts made the world’s first 3D-printed metal in space

Astronauts made the world’s first 3D-printed metal in space 

/ 07:45 AM June 12, 2024

Astronauts have been bringing various industries like tourism and medicine to space to verify potential benefits. Recently, the European Space Agency made a “giant leap forward” for 3D-printed metal.

On June 4, 2024, its astronauts completed the world’s first metal 3D print in space aboard the International Space Station. 

READ: 3D printing hair and skin is now possible

Nowadays, numerous industries use 3D printing, so this breakthrough may significantly improve their productivity and efficiency further. After all, many technologies we use on Earth started in space, such as cell phone cameras. 

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How did astronauts make 3D-printed metal?

On January 30, 2024, the ESA launched its 3D printer to the ISS aboard the Cygnus NG-20 resupply mission. It uses a stainless steel wire that feeds into a printing area. 

A high-powered laser melts the wire, softening it enough to mold it into a specific shape. A ground team manages the process while the space crew manages valves and nitrogen levels before printing. 

A metal box seals the printer to protect the ISS crew since its laser can exceed 1,200°C or roughly 1,832°F. 

On June 3, 2024, the European Space Agency announced it made its first 3D-printed metal on the ISS. It was a small, s-shaped metal piece.

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“This S-curve is a test line, successfully concluding the commissioning of our Metal 3D Printer,” ESA technical officer Rob Posterna explained.

“The success of this first print, along with other reference lines, leaves us ready to print full parts in the near future,” he added. 

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The ESA says it is testing 3D metal prints in space to make space travel more sustainable and efficient. One persistent space travel issue is repairing machinery.

Launching replacement parts into space is highly expensive and leaves carbon emissions and space debris. On the other hand, a 3D printer could enable astronauts to print needed parts.

The ESA also plans to recycle space junk into 3D-printed metals. More importantly, it could help astronauts build infrastructure on other planets. 

Astronauts might convert discarded space equipment into infrastructure that will support long-term human settlements.

The European Space Agency says the s-shaped bit is one of the four that will test the Metal 3D printer. Then, ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen will prepare them for a trip to Earth.

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Once it lands, scientists will analyze the samples and compare their qualities to similar Earth components. 

TOPICS: Outer Space, technology
TAGS: Outer Space, technology

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