Aug 3, 2015 | By Simon

As if the concept of 3D printing in space couldn’t be any more futuristic and cool, we just might have another incredible science fiction concept to start talking about, too.

Previously, we’ve seen how the engineers and astronauts at NASA - along with 3D printer manufacturer Made in Space - are embracing 3D printing in zero gravity environments with the addition of a 3D printer in the International Space Station and the ability to email STL files to space directly from earth.  Now, it’s looking like they want to put 3D printing to good use to create robot drones that are capable of further exploring space, starting with the 'Asteroid Prospector Flyer' Drone.  

The announcement is the result of years of research performed by researchers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida that’s focused on reaching areas of space and planet terrain that their existing ground-based rovers are unable to reach.  As anybody who has brushed up on their science knows, the lack of air in space means that traditional quadcopter drones that work superbly on Earth won’t work quite as well once deployed.  

Alternatively, the engineers at NASA have developed a unique propulsion solution that utilizes cold-gas jets to propel the drones from one point to another.  To create their first prototype of the drone - which is currently the one being used today - the team turned to both off-the-shelf components and 3D printing to create the 5-foot wide aircraft.  

Currently, the team of engineers are looking into the potential for having the drones fly autonomously based on a particular deployment plan - a concept that is also currently being tested on earth.  In the case that they aren’t able to have the drones fly autonomously, a human pilot will be assigned.   

Among other places that the drones would be used include places that rovers would otherwise have difficulty getting in and out of - such as martian volcanoes that could harbor more answers to questions about the planet than the surface alone may be capable of.  If a preliminary drone mission is capable of deeming these areas as safe, then NASA could theoretically set up a more formal research station for human astronauts - one that would most certainly be equipped with a small army of 3D printers, no doubt.      

“You could put a whole habitat inside a lava tube to shelter astronauts from radiation, thermal extremes, weather and micrometeorites,” explained Rob Mueller, a NASA senior technologist.

Needless to say, it’s clear that 3D printing is helping NASA in more ways than one when it comes to the next generation of space exploration.  


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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M Ajamie wrote at 8/23/2015 6:11:21 AM:

Pretty cool idea. There's a woman who is developing a solid state thruster for micro-sats. How about using PLA for solid fuel? Then you could print that also.

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