We’re all used to 3d printing on earth, most of us have seen it and a few of us may even own a 3d printer, but what about printing in space? Last year Made in Space organisation worked in collaboration with NASA to launch a 3d printer into space for use on the international space station. This in itself was an unbelievable achievement and one which we blogged about last year, but what about the actual physics of 3d printing in space and is it any different from 3d printing on earth? The answer unequivocally is yes. You cannot design for space with the same mindset as designing on earth. With the effects of astronauts working in zero G, certain design requirements have to take priority such as the omission of support materials. On earth we assume that 3d printing with support is normal and doesn’t pose any risk at all to our health. But the opposite is the case in space. With the strict controls that astronauhts live in there has to be no debris flying around in their working and living quarters.
The risk of small tiny debris floating around includes inhalation and possibly injury/choking and potentially death. When 3d printing on earth we don’t even need to think about this. We design and make it, then simply snap of the supports and dispose of them. Looking at this design of the minion seems completely normal, but it could cause real injury if printed in space. Small debris flying into astronauts eyes, getting stuck in ears could be a disaster for a space mission and end it prematurely. Unfortunately space is not that advanced where an astronaut can simply pop down to a zero G emergency room. Luckily this was figured out before hand rather than later so nothing will be printed with support material by the astronauts and the research and development into 3d printing in space continues to advance.
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