3D printers that print using metal could be perfected to print components for use in spacecraft within five years, says the European Space Agency.
Described by the organisation as “a 3D-printing revolution”, the ‘AMAZE’ (an acronym for the catchy “Additive Manufacturing Aiming towards Zero waste & Efficient production of high-tech metal products”) project “aims to perfect the printing of space-quality metal components on Earth and beyond within five years.”
The technology currently uses titanium in place of the plastic compound typically used by 3D printers, and has successfully been used to print “an intricate net shaped to millimetre precision.”
The use of the tech also means massive durability – the materials “can withstand temperatures up to 3500-degrees Celsius.”
28 European industrial partners are working with the ESA on the project, and are setting up “factories of the future” to streamline the manufacturing process required.
There’s a lot of work that to be done in the next five years before partly 3D-printed spacecraft start blasting off, but the ESA hints that the next step might allow repairs and construction to take place in space itself:
“Before taking a 3D printer to the International Space Station, ESA will test the technology on parabolic aircraft flights and suborbital rockets to see how weightlessness affects the behaviour of the liquid metals.”