While much of the world watches the 3D printer testing by NASA, there’s another space 3D printer in the works.
The European Space Agency (ESA) last year commissioned a project to develop a brand new, industrial-capable 3D printer ready for use in space conditions, Project MELT: Manufacturing of Experimental Layer Technology. The challenge was awarded to a consortium consisting several European companies: Active Space, a maker of electro-mechanical systems for extreme environments; OHB, a maker of high-tech solutions for space, science and industry; and BEEVERYCREATIVE, a familiar desktop 3D printer manufacturer.
I asked BEEVERYCREATIVE whether the space 3D printer will be an adaptation of their existing model, but was told, no, the new MELT 3D printer will be of an entirely new design, based on the skills of the participants in the consortium.
It’s a very challenging project because the machine design will have to handle a variety of unusual conditions, including micro-gravity operation, launch stresses and extreme reliability. The MELT machine must also be extremely safe, and not emit any fumes, or present risk of fire, for example.
The project is underway for approximately a year now with the design now complete. While BEEVERYCREATIVE assisted in the design, one of the other consortium members is actually constructing it. They’ll be doing testing together, however.
The consortium expects to be undertaking micro-gravity testing in repeated parabolic flights that provide a few moments of weightlessness. This all leads to the big expedition in which the machine will be sent to the international space station sometime in 2017.
One of the best aspects of this project is that once complete, the technology developed may be provided for others to develop and use elsewhere. This might lead to some interesting new 3D printers.