It’s well nigh impossible to discuss 3D printing technology in outer space without mentioning the California-based 3D printing firm Made In Space. The organization has essentially become the right hand man to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), contributing to a number of projects both inside and outside of the International Space Station (ISS). Made In Space is currently working to construct a multi-armed 3D printing space robot, which will be capable of printing in the vacuum of space. In the past, they’ve worked with Lowe’s Innovation Labs to send up the first-ever permanent 3D printing facility on the ISS. Made In Space also looking to add some art and culture up in space, working with artist Eyal Gever to send a digital file of human laughter sound waves to a 3D printer in the ISS, which will inevitably be the first-ever art piece constructed in outer space.
It’s hard to imagine what other extraordinary, ‘out-of-this-world’ projects Made In Space could possibly conjure up, but somehow they’ve managed to amaze me yet again. The 3D printing firm has recently received funding from NASA for their plan to transform asteroids into ‘steampunk’-like spaceships, an ambitious and almost unbelievable project that they’ve dubbed RAMA (Reconstituting Asteroids into Mechanical Automata). The idea is to create sizable autonomous spaceships to fly to remote mining outposts, which will serve as part of the long-term plan to help construct human colonies in space.
“Today, we have the ability to bring resources from Earth,” said Jason Dunn, the co-founder and chief technology officer of Made In Space. “But when we get to a tipping point where we need the resources in space, then the question becomes, ‘Where do they come from and how do we get them, and how do we deliver them to the location that we need?’ This is a way to do it.”
The project would utilize a robotic “seed craft”, which will make its way to groups of near-Earth asteroids and harvest critical materials from within them. According to Made In Space, the initiative would be more cost effective than sending individual probes to each asteroid. The ships will take on a ‘steampunk’ aesthetic, appearing as if they’re from a Mad Max sequel set in a futuristic outer space. Made In Space even plans to equip the 3D printed space vehicle with a catapult, which will launch debris from the asteroid-ship, propelling it into the dark abyss of space.
The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program is awarding the project with $100,000, which aims to make our space tech more sustainable and efficient as we gear up to explore Mars in the near future. 3D printing technology will be used to turn the asteroid material into a ship, creating propulsion and navigation systems for instance.
However, Made In Space does acknowledge that other advances in technology outside of 3D printing will be needed to set this plan into action – such as in-situ resource utilization (ISRU), which in this case would be the art of using resources from the asteroids to persevere in outer space. Made In Space hopes that NASA will help push the development of ISRU technology, which, according to NASA officials, will also be critical in sustaining astronauts on Mars and other off-earth outposts. Though these steampunk asteroid-ships won’t be slinging around space debris immediately, Made In Space and NASA seem to believe that they can build them in the near future, helping humanity to keep trucking on through the vast universe.
Discuss further in the Made In Space to 3D Print Autonomous Spaceships forum over at 3DPB.com.[Source: Space.com]