How 3D Printing Could Have Prevented The Apollo 13 Crisis
While we've seen 3D printers used in a range of functions, from shoes to dental implants, US space agency NASA has loftier goals. It was recently announced that in the coming year the space exploration juggernaut will be launching a 3D printer into the outer limits to help astronauts create spare parts and tools in zero gravity.
Last week Made In Space, the space manufacturing company contracted for the 3D printer technology, prepared the models for the most crucial round of tests. To prove how far we've come with this technology, the team re-created the infamous 1970 Apollo 13 breakdown in order to demonstrate how a 3D printer could have solved this perilous situation within minutes. During the original flight the crew were forced to improvize a carbon dioxide filter holder out of a plastic bag and duct tape. With new this technology the same piece could be replicated anytime, anywhere.
Above, these 3D printed tools were recently tested for disaster preparedness.
This newest innovation comes at the tail end of a summer spent testing the intended models via four microgravity flights (lasting two hours each), simulating conditions found during the average space flight. A partnership with NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, this 3D printing in zero-G experiment validated the concept of additive manufacturing in zero-gravity, and opened the possibility for endless creative exploration.
If the launch proves successful, this will be the first time a 3D printer has been used in this capacity, and NASA is hoping it could lead to a reduction in the costs of future missions.
"Imagine an astronaut needing to make a life-or-death repair on the International Space Station," said Aaron Kemmer, the Made In Space's chief executive."Rather than hoping that the necessary parts and tools are on the station already, what if the parts could be 3D printed when they needed them?"
"If you want to be adaptable, you have to be able to design and manufacture on the fly, and that's where 3D printing in space comes in,'' said Dave Korsmeyer, director of engineering at NASA's Ames Research Center.
Below, the Made In Space team celebrates a successful test launch.
While this new innovation will provide immediate benefits, the advancements achieved will also have wide-reaching impacts we've yet to fully understand:
“Humanity’s future ultimately depends on our ability to explore and occupy space. The 3D printing technologies developed and tested during our Zero-G flights are a cornerstone to building that future. We reached a milestone in our goal to lay that cornerstone with the success of these prototype tests,” said Mike Snyder, P.I. on the 3D Print Experiment and Lead Design Engineer.
Above, Made in Space CTO Jason Dunn (left) and P.I. of the 3DP Experiment Mike Snyder recreate parts using the 3D printer.
“The 3D printer we’re developing for the ISS is all about enabling astronauts today to be less dependent on Earth,” said Noah Paul-Gin, Microgravity Experiment Lead. “The version that will arrive on the ISS next year has the capability of building an estimated 30% of the spare parts on the station, as well as various objects such as specialty tools and experiment upgrades.”
Above, Made in Space CTO Jason Dunn stands proudly by his 3D Printing Test Experiment.
For more information, watch CTO Jason Dunn's TED Talk discuss his vision for 3D printing:
About Made in Space:
Founded in 2010 with the goal of enabling in-space manufacturing, Made in Space’s team members and advisors include successful entrepreneurs (Aaron Kemmer, Jason Dunn, Mike Chen, Jason Lam, Alison Lewis), experienced space experts (three-time astronaut Dan Barry and Mission Lead Mike Snyder) and key 3D printing experts (Scott Summit, Gonzalo Martinez). The company’s Unique Innovation Lab has done over 20,000+ hours of testing of various 3D printing technologies, off-the-shelf and custom-built printers, and dozens of printer components.
Currently we are unable to link to NASA's website due to the government shutdown.
Top image courtesy of AP