Of all the industries that have enthusiastically embraced 3D printing, perhaps the most enthusiastic is the space industry.
That’s because the uses for 3D printing are varied from making parts for rocket engines, to creating replacement parts in space to creating 3D printed buildings on other planets.
Indeed, a rocket that blasted into space last May from New Zealand created a stir.
It was the first rocket to be launched from a private site and which also had engine parts created using 3D printing.
The rocket was built by RocketLab and they say 3D printing provides performance benefits and efficiencies over other systems when it comes to creating components.
Also, the 3D printer helps minimise weight while maintaining structural performance of the parts that are printed.
One of the big attractions for using 3D printers in the space industry is that they are reducing the reliance on having to create expensive manufacturing tools to make a few parts for rockets.
However, 3D printers will also have a role to play in space itself where it is difficult to store large amounts of spare parts and it’s a costly exercise to send replacements.
There’s even a 3D printer installed on the International Space Station so engineers can send a design should something break and need replacing.
That particular printer only uses plastic and is currently used for making tools or replacements for low performance parts including door handles.
There’s even a prediction that 3D printers will enable those in space to produce the food and biological materials they need to survive long journeys.
And one interesting prediction for 3D printers is to use them for creating and building colonies on other planets; the European Space Agency has proved that solar energy can help power the production of bricks made from lunar dust.
Now researchers are looking at how they can use 3D printing to print a complete building on the moon – and they are predicting a 3D printed village could be built on the moon’s surface in the next 15 years.
Scientists have been working on the materials they can use and calculate that with three 3D printers producing up to 3.5 metres of material every hour means they could create a structure in less than a week.
There’s still a long way to go before this happens and the processes and materials still need to be developed to deal with the harsh conditions of space.