Six years ago, in a conversation with Airbus’ Delphine Carponcin, we learned that the space company was working with the European Space Agency on the development of a 3D metal printer to send it into space. The “Metal3D” project had started in 2016 with the goal of creating a metal 3D printer to safely operate under microgravity, aboard the International Space Station. Metal AM OEM AddUp who joined the project co-funded and led by Airbus Defence and Space confirms today that they deliver that metal 3D printer to the European Space Agency.
This achievement is truly one of its kind for the AM industry that continuously witnesses the capabilities of AM for the space industry. If this metal 3D printer is described as a first in the metal AM segment, it should be noted that a polymer 3D printer had already been installed aboard the ISS.
This metal 3D printer was designed to evaluate the capabilities and performance of additive technology and to perform metal disposition in 3D under sustained microgravity conditions. On Tuesday, January 30, 2024, the Metal 3D Printer was successfully launched by NASA Mission NG-20 towards the International Space Station. Printing operations are expected to start in late February or early March, a press release reads.
The metal 3D printer will be installed in the ISS in early 2024, on board the Columbus European Science Module, alongside the other experiments carried out by European teams. Four specimens are planned to be printed by the metal 3D printer in the Columbus module and for reference and comparison, these specimens will also be printed on the ground. The specimens will be returned to Earth, analyzed and compared with those produced on the ground. These experiments aim to make extraterrestrial metal 3D printing viable, for example, for the manufacture of spare parts. Metal 3D printing in space would limit the logistics needs from Earth, which can take up to 12 months between preparation, take-off and delivery.
“We were confident that with the knowledge and experience the AddUp team has, combined with the technological expertise of Airbus, together we would be successful in delivering a high quality and efficient metal 3D printer to support the exploration of space,” explains Elodie Viau, Head of Engineering at Airbus Space Systems.
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