This is good work, and possibly a very important step for our long-term future in space.
But, it would have ruined the film Apollo 13...
A special 3D printer designed to work in zero-gravity conditions has received flight certification from NASA and will shortly be sent up to the International Space Station for astronauts to try out. The space stations forthcoming 3D printer Astronauts will soon be able to build their own plastic gewgaws The snappily named …
No, they'd just have to change the storyline a little. The printer would only work from the power supply socket in the command module. The power supply in the command module would then fail, and they'd need to print a new part to fix it... Something would have to be built using just a bog roll, a staple stolen from a printout, the foil packet of a space curry meal..... in order to power the printer from the socket in the Service Module, but the computer to control it would still be in the CM - so they would have to try to hand cross-compile the code for the incompatible computer in the SM.....
This plastic 3D printer wouldn't have affected Apollo 13. The basic problem on Apollo 13 was that in a matter of minutes it lost most of the oxygen it needed for its fuel cells thanks to a ruptured tank, and in turn lost most of the power it needed to stay alive.
**Assuming you had good models of the ruptured tanks and plumbing;
**Assuming you had a 3D printer(s) that could work with the diverse range of materials (diverse metals, glass, foams, plastics) instead of just soft plastics that liquid oxygen likes to ignite;
**Assuming the astronauts had the tools to remove all the mangled hardware;
**Assuming the astronauts were able to install the replacement parts in their bulky suits and the tight confines of the service module; and
**Assuming you could get all the parts printed in just a few hours instead of a few weeks...
Then you still don't have enough oxygen for the fuel cells. 3D printers can't create materials from nothing.
A 3D printer might've helped a bit during the juryrigging inside the capsule and LEM, like adapting the CO2 filters from the command module to the air system of the LEM, but there was a simpler method: duct tape.
So, Apollo 13 wouldn't have been helped much and the movie would've stayed fairly dramatic.
OK get your mission control to send us the nose cone plans and we'll get you fixed for home!
Cue patriotic music, special relationship in space, sun going over horizon etc..
Just make sure someone reminds them Metric now and then OK, we don't need Sandra Bullock in on this one.
The idea of printing replacement parts is fine, but it will have to use materials that have much better durability than plastic if we are to be able to use it in a colonization scenario.
A full-fledged colony will have to have mining utensils, maybe even mining machines, smelters, smithies and metalworkers. It might even be a good idea to stay low-tech as much as possible - if a colony bases its management on tablets and spreadsheets then everything will grind to halt when the equipment fails.
But for a proof-of-concept phase, this is definitely a good idea.
A plastic part that keeps you alive for a couple of days is worth 100 metal parts, rated for the full mission duration, that you don't have.
Completely different tolerances, but we prototyped a float-valve on a 3-D printer. It worked for a whole day before falling apart. Which was perfect as a proof of concept, before going on to the more expensive prototyping stages.
>>but we prototyped a float-valve on a 3-D printer. It worked for a whole day before falling apart.
ABS or PLA?
We are starting to print with carbon fibre epoxy now, amazing strength and very resilient, in fact zero G could mean printing with materials that gravity otherwise buggers up - zero G isn't a problem, it's an opportunity :D
to print alot of baby 3D printers :P
Seriously, this is good stuff, and while some are moaning about its usefulness people should realize that its only a first step, the first of many i'm sure.
Once this thing works as expected NASA will be clever enough to make it so it can print using several materials, or even find a way to recycle what it builds so once the object becomes garbage it could be re-used in some way.
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