Oct 18, 2018 | By Grijs

European Space Agency’s first 3D printer designed for use in microgravity conditions, printing aerospace-quality plastics, has won the TCT Aerospace Applications Award 2018.

Images credit: ESA

ESA’s Manufacturing of Experimental Layer Technology (MELT) project 3D printer has to be able to operate from any orientation – up, down or sideways – in order to function under the specific and strenuous microgravity conditions inside orbiting ISS. Each layers material chemically bonds with adjacent layers, regardless of gravity. Based on the ‘fuse filament fabrication’ process, it has been built using space grade certified materials and designed to fit within a standard ISS payload rack, and to meet the Station’s rigorous safety standards.

The MELT microgravity 3D printer can print a wide variety of thermoplastics from ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), as used in Lego, up to high-melting point engineering thermoplastics such PEEK (Polyether ether ketone), which is robust enough to replace metal materials in many applications inside the Station. Their functionality can also be modified by doping them with particles with specific properties (e.g., conductive, antimicrobial).

The MELT 3D printer can be used to manufacture necessary structures, spares, in situ and on demand, reducing the cost, volume, and up-mass constraints that could forbid launching everything needed for long-duration or long distance missions from Earth.

“This 3D printer could be used to make parts on demand for the repair and maintenance of a long-duration orbital habitat,” explains ESA materials and processes engineer Ugo Lafont. “This 3D printer would also benefit human bases on planetary surfaces. Crucially, it can also print using recycled plastics, allowing a whole new maintenance strategy based on closed-loop reuse of materials.”

The MELT 3D printer was produced for ESA by a consortium led by Germany’s Sonaca Space GmbH together with Portugal-based 3D printing company BEEVERYCREATIVE, Portugal’s Active Space Techologies SA and Germany’s OHB-System AG.

The MELT project started two years ago and was supported through ESA’s Technology Development Element programme, which identifies promising technologies for space, then demonstrates their workability.

Watch a video of the MELT 3D printer in operation below.



Posted in 3D Printer



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Gary wrote at 10/24/2018 12:14:10 AM:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euC2KZO37_Q Adrian and the crew already proved that a FFF/FDM machine can work in micro gravity by turning a printer upside down, 9 years ago

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