The world’s first metal 3D printer for space is on its way to the ISS

Feb. 13, 2024
It's lift-off for 3D additive manufacturing in space, Airbus says.

BRUSSELS - The first metal 3D printer for space, developed by Airbus* for the European Space Agency (ESA), will soon be tested aboard the Columbus module of the International Space Station (ISS). It could be a real game changer for manufacturing in space and future missions to the Moon or Mars, Airbus says. Continue reading original article.

The Military & Aerospace Electronics take:

13 February 2024 - Gwenaëlle Aridon, Airbus Space Assembly lead engineer, says: “The metal 3D printer will bring new on-orbit manufacturing capabilities, including the possibility to produce load-bearing structural parts that are more resilient than a plastic equivalent. Astronauts will be able to directly manufacture tools such as wrenches or mounting interfaces that could connect several parts together. The flexibility and rapid availability of 3D printing will greatly improve astronauts’ autonomy.”

While the process of 3D printing has been mastered on Earth, printing metal in space presents its own set of technical challenges. Sébastien Girault, metal 3D printer system engineer at Airbus, explains. “The first challenge with this technology demonstrator was size. On Earth, current metal 3D printers are installed in a minimum ten square meter laboratory, “ he says. “To create the prototype for the ISS, we had to shrink the printer to the size of a washing machine”. This miniaturization is needed in order to fit inside the rack in which the printer will be housed on board the ISS’ Columbus Laboratory. “At this size, we can print parts with a volume of nine centimeters high and five centimeters wide,” Girault says.

Related: Airbus Helicopters opens new 3D printing center in Germany

Related: GKN Aerospace and Materialise team on additive manufacturing in aviation

Related: The evolution of 3D printing and additive manufacturing 

Jamie Whitney, Senior Editor
Military + Aerospace Electronics

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