Humanity has always been extremely curious about the concept of exploring Space. According to NASA there are millions of galaxies in space that are still unexplored and we are just a small part of the Milky-way galaxy. It has been theorised that planet Earth is not the only living planet in the solar system and that there is a high possibility that there are similar planets in other galaxies far far away where life could possibly exist. Based on this theory, NASA has been carrying out space explorations over the past few decades in search of any sign of life on a planet besides ours. The one mission NASA has placed on high priority in recent years is the exploration and colonisation of the planet Mars. Despite the atmospheric conditions of the planet not being hospitable now, the possibility of life on Mars might actually be a reality in the near future.
The exploration of Mars has been the goal of national space programs for many decades. Till date, most human plans have been scientific expeditions in which small groups of 2 to 8 scientists go to Mars from anywhere between a few weeks to a year, and then return to Earth. In the 2010s, numerous American, European, and Chinese agencies were developing proposals for human missions to Mars.They are now developing and testing the technologies required.
3D printing technology is being explored in various applications. Over the past few years its usage has grown at an alarming rate. Scientists in Space research centres are finding applications for this cutting edge technology in Space. If scientists could print objects in space it would revolutionise space exploration altogether.
There are two different benefits and two different applications of 3D printing in space.
3D printing inside of the station and outside of the station. Inside of the station it would be helpful in the daily life of a scientist while orbiting space. For example, when something is broken and they want to replace a part it would be way more efficient to print it in space rather than waste time sending it back to Earth. A 3D printer working in orbit would allow astronauts to create satellite structures. New satellites could be built directly in space.
Currently used PLA and PVA material are not compatible with the space atmosphere. Space scientists are using new plastics made from PEI/PC. It is actually several times stronger than the traditional plastic printed inside of the International Space Station. Polyetherimide and polycarbonate are two different thermoplastics, mostly used in engineering.These are very resistant plastics and they are easy to model, which is particularly good for 3D printing, to create the shapes that you need with a great precision. Also, these materials have a great thermostability and a good resilience, perfect to experience the space conditions. On May 26, 2017, a rocket that was launched from New Zealand was powered by a 3D printed rocket engine.
Mars pioneers could 3D print a human colony on Mars. A team of scientists is developing a plan to use 3D printing to build locally made houses and food on the Martian surface. These resources would support the lives of people leaving the confines of Earth for the Red Planet. One constraint is the availability of raw materials. The only natural resource available is dust. The Martian dust is made up of rounder, less irregular particles.The team developed a process that combines simulated lunar and Martian dust with solvents and a bio-polymer to create these extraterrestrial inks. The inks were then 3D printed into different shapes using an extruder. In the end, the objects — which were composed of about 90 percent dust — were tough and flexible, and could withstand the rolling, cutting and folding needed to print almost any 3D shape.
With new researches and developments across the world, more people will be aware of this technology and in the near future this may even help in replacing traditional manufacturing machines and methods.