Jul 12, 2016 | By Alec

As all lovers of aircraft know, the Farnborough Airshow is being held in England this week. As was the case during previous years, it is again home to spectacular aircraft, air shows and the most revolutionary aerospace technologies of the moment. As one of the largest aerospace manufacturers in the world, Airbus could obviously not miss this event and shared a glimpse of their upcoming plans. But perhaps even more interesting were Airbus deputy chief technology officer Andy Anderson’s speculations about the future of aerospace 3D printing. As he revealed, Airbus believes that satellites will be 3D printed, tested and deployed in space in the near future.

Among others, Airbus shared footage of a A350 aircraft taking off almost vertically, while Norsk Titanium is exhibiting a mockup of its MERKE IV RPD 3D printer. Incidentally, Norsk is also showcasing a sort of petting zoo section, where visitors can touch and pick up parts made using their novel additive manufacturing process.

But nothing is hotter in the world of 3D printing than space exploration, and Airbus is clearly going to be a part of this. As you might remember, Airbus recently opened an entire Aerospace Factory and materials research laboratory in Munich, Germany, completely dedicated to metal and aerospace 3D printing. The company is also working on satellites, having 3D printed components for satellites as early as 2014. They are also contributing 3D printed components to the Eurostar E3000 satellite that is scheduled to launch in early 2017.

Below: 3D printed component for the Eurostar E3000.

But as became apparent from an interview with Andy Anderson at Farnborough, this is just the beginning. As he insinuated, those same satellites will be 3D printed and tested aboard space stations in orbit in the near future. “If you think of challenges in getting a satellite into orbit, if you think of major antennas, the fold out antennas we have, the ability to print something in space and deploy it from space is really interesting,” he revealed.

NASA and ESA have been emphasizing the importance of in-space 3D printing for years. In a nutshell, it could be a solution for one of the most significant obstacles faced by the Mission to Mars: the immense costs involved. Sending necessary supplies into space is extremely expensive, but those costs could be significantly reduced if you only have to send up a few basic materials that are used for on-demand 3D printing. It will, scientists agree, facilitate deeper space exploration through efficiency and flexibility. That is exactly why the European and American space programs have been working on zero-gravity 3D printing, and a zero-gravity 3D printer is currently in operation aboard the ISS.

But as Anderson suggested, metal 3D printing will also be adapted for in-space 3D printing in the near future. “The fact we can print in space has been proved, it's more how do we design structures and what is the process of then printing them and testing them to see how they are done in space to make sure they work. It's still a long way off, but certainly the journey has started,” Anderson said.

He also argued that existing zero-gravity 3D printers will need to be improved to properly assist astronauts in their work. Though no timeline was revealed, it certainly seems as though 3D printing is becoming an integral part of the Mission to Mars.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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