Dec 7, 2015 | By Benedict

3D printing in space: it’s happening, and we’re over the moon about it. The International Space Station (ISS) sent its latest cargo package yesterday, December 6, via an Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft. Aboard that vessel and amongst its precious cargo was the very first European 3D printer designed for use in space, designed by Italian engineering firm Altran Italia, and on which we reported back in November 2014. The 3D printer was part of a large cargo package which also included 2,200 pounds of hardware for the station, such as spare parts and oxygen tanks, 1,800 pounds of research materials, and 2,600 pounds of crew supplies.


The successful launch was a huge relief to all involved, as the last resupply mission organized by Orbital, one of two aerospace companies contracted to send cargo to the ISS, resulted in the rocket exploding seconds after takeoff. This misfortune seemed to have triggered an alarming trend, after the other contracted party, SpaceX, had a disaster of its own in June of this year. After launching seven successful resupply missions between May 2012 and April 2015, the company’s most recent Dragon spacecraft blew up mid-flight.

The Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft responsible for delivering the special Italian 3D printer to the ISS is composed of two main components: the Service Module and the Pressurized Cargo Module (PCM), which was developed by Thales Alenia Space, who also helped to develop the unique 3D printer. The craft was launched using an Atlas V 401 rocket, provided by United Launch Alliance.

"This flight, with the first utilization of the enhanced version of the Cygnus PCM, is very significant for Thales Alenia Space. It confirms the value of our leading-edge space technologies," said Donato Amoroso, CEO of Thales Alenia Space Italia. "It reflects both Thales Alenia Space's world-renowned expertise in our contribution to the International Space Station, and the innovation that is at the heart of our strategy. We plan to continue the development of the Cygnus PCM also in view of future applications, such as the logistics support for solar system exploration."

The 'Portable on Board Printer 3D' (POP3D) was primarily built by Altran Italia, with the help of with Thales Alenia Space and the Italian Institute of Technology. “With Portable on Board Printer 3D, Altran Italia demonstrates its ability to innovate in cutting edge fields and to build with its partners and customers new business models and opportunities for technological development for the benefit of industrial research”, said Costantino Volpe, Portable on Board Printer 3D project manager at Altran Italia.

The first European 3D printer in space should prove an invaluable tool for producing small replacement parts at short notice, but the Italian Space Agency (ASI) also sees the technology as an important stepping stone towards the broader goal of enabling humans to live comfortably in space. “In the frame of the mission of the Italian Space Agency to promote the Italian excellence in scientific and technological research in space, we are proud to attend the launch operation of Portable on Board Printer 3D on International Space Station,” said Gabriele Mascetti of ASI. “We have known for more than 50 years that man can survive in space, but one of the biggest challenges that the space agencies of all countries of the world are facing is how humans can live in space. 3D printing is one of the key technologies that will drive this process.”

Elisa Ambrosio, researcher at the Italian Institute of Technology, concurred with Mascetti’s sentiments, adding: “The Italian Institute of Technology is active in the development of frontier research which has a big impact on the industrial network, with achievable application for all people. 3D printing completely represents this focus.”

The spacecraft and its history-making 3D printer is expected to dock with the ISS on December 9.



Posted in 3D Printer



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