South African Students Develop Mobile, Self-replicating, 3D Printer Meant for Space Exploration

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spaceinvaders33D printing in outer space has become quite the fad as of late. This is mostly due to the fact that NASA and Made in Space recently sent a zero-g 3D printer to the ISS for testing in micro-gravity conditions. On top of this, the European Space Agency has been talking a lot lately about the possibilities of 3D printing large structures on soils foreign to Earth. With this, comes the idea of a 3D printed moon base which features radiation shielding.

It doesn’t end here though, as three 15-year old students from South Africa have come up with a 3D printer that they believe could lead to more self-sufficiency for astronauts traveling through and exploring space. Jared Rheeders, Rueben Pretorius, and Matthew Whyte make up the team that calls themselves “Space Invaders”, and they plan on showing off their incredible creation at the World Robot Olympiad in Russia later next week.

“To comply with the demands that astronauts will have to endure in space, our engineers have designed a mobile 3D printer that integrates delta geometry to create structures and parts at very high and accurate standards,” explained team member Matthew Whyte.

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The team has built a mobile 3D printer, called the Delta 3, which is based on open source delta technology. In fact, they used the designs from a RepRap Delta printer which they modified quite significantly to provide it with the ability to maneuver around terrain and hopefully print in low gravity conditions, such as those found on the Moon and even Mars. Also what makes this 3D printer quite ideal for travel in space, is that many (perhaps most) of its parts are 3D printable themselves, making this a mobile, self-replicating, low-gravity 3D printer; the first of its kind.

spaceinvaders2Because the World Robot Olympiad is a LEGO-based competition, the team lucked out with their design. Using a LEGO EV3 Brick to manage the Arduino micro controller, which controls the printer’s movements on terrain, they were also able to program it so that it can use its onboard gyro sensor to self-determine where a suitable, level surface, for 3D printing may be. With the terrain on planets such as Mars being quite uneven and rugged, this could be a major help in finding suitable printing locations.

If all of this wasn’t enough to excite anyone interested in space travel, the fact the Delta 3 can print with multiple materials may just be enough to convince even the biggest naysayers.

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While the Delta 3 obviously has not been proven to work in space quite yet, the team has tested it out here on planet Earth. The results are quite phenomenal for a RepRap 3D printer that is very mobile. In fact, the way in which it works could go to much use here on this planet as well. With the ability to print while also remaining mobile, means that it conceivable could print with an infinitely large x-axis.

“Soon humans will be settling on planets in space, and will have to survive in extreme and harsh conditions,” explained Jared Rheeders. “There will be a minimum of resources available. The future will soon have robots that will create other robots.”

With help from this team of brilliant 15-year-olds, the future of space travel may just become a little bit easier. What do you think about this mobile 3D printer? Could it have uses here on Earth as well? Discuss in the mobile, self-replicating 3D printer forum thread on 3DPB.com. Check out the teams explanatory video below.

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