BEEVERYCREATIVE Completes Continuous Space 3D Printer Prototype

By on March 14th, 2022 in news, printer

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The IMPERIAL continuous space-based 3D printer [Source: BEEVERYCREATIVE]

BEEVERYCREATIVE announced they have completed building the first prototype of their new space-based continuous 3D printer.

The Portuguese company with the very creative name has been producing 3D printers for a decade, but in the past couple of years has been involved in a series of exploratory projects with the European Space Agency.

There have been previous space-based 3D printers designed, and more than one has actually been tested on the International Space Station. The most well-known was that developed by Made In Space, which was installed in 2014. (Note: Made In Space was acquired by Redwire in 2020, but continues working on this technology.) Subsequent experiments involved 3D printing high temperature materials and even ceramics.

These experiments were successful, but ESA wanted something a little different. The problem with space 3D printers has to do with the build volume. If you want larger parts, you need a bigger 3D printer. But a bigger 3D printer would weigh substantially more, and be far more expensive to carry into space by rocket. Even worse, the large volume of a printer would be more difficult to accommodate within the cramped confines of the space station.

Ground-based test of the IMPERIAL space-based continuous 3D printer [Source: ESA]

Last year we learned that ESA had partnered with BEEVERYCREATIVE and others to develop a kind of continuous 3D printer that could produce parts larger than itself. This work was called “Project IMPERIAL”.

The device they’ve developed uses the well-proven (even in space) FFF 3D printing process, but does so in a way that can produce objects continuously.

While we have yet to see all the details, the device, known as “IMPERIAL”, prints at a 45 degree angle much like belt 3D printers. However, if there is a belt inside the machine it isn’t very long.

It seems to me that BEEVERYCREATIVE is leveraging the fact that in space there is no gravity, and thus no need for long belts or for support mechanisms for very long extrusions: the print simply floats in the air.

This also implies that IMPERIAL cannot work as well on the ground, although there are videos of it extruding at a downward angle. I suspect that if the print happened to be heavy it might induce some drag on the part and possibly mess up the print. This would not happen in orbit.

The next step after the prototype was produced is to fly the IMPERIAL to the ISS and give it a test. As far as I can tell, this has not yet been scheduled, but it seems it would be soon.

Should this concept prove feasible, the IMPERIAL or its successor machines would be very valuable to a space-based operation: large parts could be readily produced on demand.

These could be to replace broken parts, or more interestingly, to use newly designed parts that were not available when the mission launched.

Larger-scale versions of the concept could potentially produce huge parts for space-based construction projects.

I’m very interested to see how the test unfolds.


By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!

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