Tag Archives: ESA

ESA Announces The AMAZE Project to Bring Metal 3D Printing to Space

The European Space Agency (ESA) is making a major push into metal 3D printing

Today, at the London Science Museum, the ESA is showcasing complex 3D printed parts made of metal that can withstand temperatures at 1000°C – fit for space and the most demanding applications on Earth.

Direct Metal Laser Sintering DMLS

Moving from plastic to metal

3D printers are great from rapid prototyping or creating industrial objects out of plastic, but what about metal?

The ESA and the EU, together with industrial and educational partners, are developing the first large-scale production methods to 3D print with metal. This technology would allow the creation of complex objects in space — imagine full-scale systems like reactors or rockets.

“We want to build the best quality metal products ever made. Objects you can’t possibly manufacture any other way,” said David Jarvis, ESA Head of New Materials and Energy Research, in an interview with BBC.

Titanium 3D Printed Structure

Above: a titanium 3D printed structure

This novel technology offers many advantages. 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, can create complex shapes that are impossible to manufacture with traditional casting and machining techniques. Little to no material is wasted and cutting the number of steps in a manufacturing chain offers enormous cost benefits.

The AMAZE project – Additive Manufacturing Aiming Towards Zero Waste & Efficient Production of High-Tech Metal Products – began in January and factory sites are being set up in France, Germany, Italy, Norway and the UK to develop the industrial supply chain.

Below is a video produced by the ESA.

Wow: 3D Printing a Lunar Base with Material Already on the Moon

Lunar Base 3D Printing

If you look back at the growth of civilization, we have progressed from building huts out of mud and rock to constructing massive skyscrapers with advanced machinery. Imagine now starting over on the moon. How would you go about constructing livable habitats on the moon? Would you transport everything from the Earth?

Similar to a process developed by Washington State University researchers we covered earlier, a concept developed by Foster + Partners proposes to use 3D printing to construct a lunar habitat from material already on the moon.

Foster + Partners is part of a consortium set up by the ESA to explore the possibilities of 3D printing to construct lunar habitations. Addressing the challenges of transporting materials to the moon, the study is investigating the use of lunar soil, known as regolith, as building matter.

The practice has designed a lunar base to house four people, which can offer protection from meteorites, gamma radiation and high temperature fluctuations. The base is first unfolded from a tubular module that can be transported by space rocket. An inflatable dome then extends from one end of this cylinder to provide a support structure for construction. Layers of regolith are then built up over the dome by a robot-operated 3D printer to create a protective shell.

To ensure strength while keeping the amount of binding “ink” to a minimum, the shell is made up of a hollow closed cellular structure similar to foam. The geometry of the structure was designed by Foster + Partners in collaboration with consortium partners – it is groundbreaking in demonstrating the potential of 3D printing to create structures that are close to natural biological systems.

Simulated lunar soil has been used to create a 1.5 tonne mockup and 3D printing tests have been undertaken at a smaller scale in a vacuum chamber to echo lunar conditions. The planned site for the base is at the moon’s southern pole, where there is near perpetual sunlight on the horizon.

The consortium includes Italian space engineering firm Alta SpA, working with Pisa-based engineering university Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna. Monolite UK supplied the D-Shape™ printer and developed a European source for lunar regolith stimulant, which has been used for printing all samples and demonstrators.

Lord Foster: “This project is a significant and pioneering step in space age construction. Working with our European colleagues, it is part of our on-going commitment to research and innovation.

”Xavier De Kestelier, Partner, Foster + Partners Specialist Modelling Group:“ As a practice, we are used to designing for extreme climates on earth and exploiting the environmental benefits of using local, sustainable materials – our lunar habitation follows a similar logic. It has been a fascinating and unique design process, which has been driven by the possibilities inherent in the material. We look forward to working with ESA and our consortium partners on future research projects.”


Image credit: ESA.