by • April 7, 2016 • No Comments
Apr 8, 2016 | By Alec
Futurists, riding the wave of new technological advancements, are again dreaming of exploring space and colonizing Mars. Unfortunatey, one problem that held us back two decades ago is yet holding us back today: costs. Building a tech institute can cost millions on earth, so one can just imagine what it may cost to create in space. NASA, that has been looking for a way to solve this by efficiently making structures in space with local materials, may have discovered the answer in 3D printing technologies. USC professor Behrokh Khoshnevis, who has created a new 3D printing system called Selective Separation Sintering (SSS) that uses materials readily discovered on Mars as createing material, has won initially place in the NASA In-Situ Materials Challenge for his efforts.
This is not, of course, the initially of NASA’s forays into 3D printing as NASA has kept a close eye on 3D printing applications, which include for 3D printed metal engine parts for next-gen spacecraft. In last year’s NASA and America Makes’ 3D Printed Habitat Challenge, initially prize was actually won by a 3D printed ice house. Since and so, NASA has continued to help space-bound making solutions its In-Situ Materials Challenge, held in collaboration with the Kennedy Space Center and Swamp Works. The goal? To advance construction in space (planetary or aboard spacecraft), via regolith, crushed basalt rock or other materials discovered on Mars and the moon. To do so, the Johnson Space Center provided synthetic materials that mirrored the qualities of those particles.
Behrokh Khoshnevis is no stranger to space-bound 3D printing either. As the Dean’s Professor of Industrial & Systems Engineering, Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering and Astronautics Engineering, and director of the Center for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technologies at the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering, he actually won a NASA Innovative Advanced Concept competition in 2014. His winning project, Contour Crafting, created a mega-scale 3D printing system that uses a mix of sulfur and regolith to create structures – for instance on the moon.
Whilst Contour Crafting was suitable for quite sizeable scale monolithic structures, this new Selective Separation Sintering (SSS) is far additional widely applicable. Essentially, it’s a powder-based method for createing more compact objects, such as bricks or interlocking tiles, but can in addition be utilized for additional functional objects such as metallic components. Featuring a robotic fabrication system that uses high melting-point ceramics, such as magnesium oxide (quite common on Mars and the moon), and planetary soil, it is perfect for objects with high heat and pressure resistance properties. “SSS is the just powder-based system that can effectively work in zero gravity condition and as such it is perfect for use in the International Space Station for fabrication of spare parts and tools,” Khoshnevis said.
Most importantly, it’s far cheaper than launching existing parts to Mars. Some estimates suggest it may cost up to $100,000 to send a one-kilogram load to the moon (let alone to Mars), so the professor feels that this is can be a massive cost saver. “It may manufacture space pioneering additional cost-effective and feasible,” he said. “There are no viable, direct, high-temperature metal, ceramic or composite fabrication methods that can work in zero-gravity conditions. SSS can be the initially such system.”
Aside of that, it is in addition a quite useful innovation. It functions at a quite high speed, does not need any expensive laser or electron technologies, and pretty rivals (or exceeds) existing technologies in terms of accuracy. “There is high future for the space and planetary use of this innovation. SSS is a minimally harsh but highly capable innovation that can effectively help planetary exploration, utilization and colonization,” he said.
For additional technical details on this interesting space-bound 3D printing innovation, check out Khoshnevis’ open-access paper Selective Separation Sintering (SSS) A New Layer Based Additive Manufacturing Approach for Metals and Ceramics, on the market through the website of the 2016 Annual International Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium. Khoshnevis and his team, meanwhile, can be working to additional test and optimize the SSS 3D printing system in the vacuum chamber of USC’s Astronautics Rocket Lab and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center facilities. They are in addition looking to collaborate with LA aerospace companies. Could this be the innovation that takes us to Mars?
Posted in 3D Printing Technology
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