I've got to believe that using a metal FDM process is very power intensive. To heat up enough material to have a continuous supply of molten metal with that high of a melting point is going to require a lot of Watts/Joules. Where's all that power going to come from? I'm with the other guy that is dubious about any fuel savings. A pound of powdered metal is the same as a pound of extruded metal in terms of cargo weight on whatever lifter they use to get it into space. A pound is a pound. Then, once you get all that stuff up there and installed, you have to find a place to store all that raw material stock too and then find a way to power the machine...
I can see the utility as an emergency solution to building spare parts on the ISS in case anything needs fixing that cannot wait for a shipment from Earth. Since you probably cannot know in advance what will break, this would give them the flexibility to make what they need instead of stocking a bunch of random pre-fabbed spares. But I think we're still a ways off from this being a practical solution.
marswalker, the truth is in the details. They won't be making the exact same item as on Earth because in space things work differently. That's both a challenge and an opportunity. In the article we explain how lighter weight metals (probably in powder form) will be used instead of heavier ones currently used on Earth. The cost of shipping heavy parts made of steel vs powders of lighter metals plus 3D printers alone would make a big difference since shipping stuff in space is very, very expensive. There's also discussion about some of these factors in this article, Robots Will 3D Print & Build Space Structures http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=267732
I find this all very fascinating and a page out of Star Trek where parts / probes / etc. are manufactured as needed, on demand. But I have a question - how can this save on rocekt fuel? The materials will have to be lifted to the ISS, then printed, then launched on their way from there. Assuming they are manufacturing exactly the same item on the ISS that would be made here on the ground, the same amount of fuel would be required to get the mateiral to the ISS, launched from the ISS, and then breaking-burns upon arrival (and steering, or TCMs, along the way). After a number of launches, the ISS will need orbital adjustments, which means burning fuel.
One would have to include the costs of getting the printer up to the ISS, and the printing materials as well. Those costs would have to be amortized over the life of the printer and the items produced.
If you leave out those other costs - getting the printer and materials up there, adjusting the ISS orbit, etc., - then you can make the claim that it saves on rocket fuel. Otherwise, I don't quite see how it saves overall, on fuel.
Deberah, technologies used to 3D print metals is undergoing a lot of change right now. As Jim points out, using moon dust--or any other similar material like soil and clay--is probably a less complicated process, at least based on what we've done here on Earth so far.
Thanks Anne, for such an interesting and informative post . This process of 3d printing metal can prrint complicated structures with more flexibility and very little wastage of raw material which on the other hand results in cost and time saving .
Not only new materials will be discovered but i came across that 3d printing is beig done on space for astronauts this will save the cost and extra energy needed for transfering the epuioment from earth to space .
From the looks of the images of the 'actual' printed in the slide show, the rough resolution will inhibit creating precision parts suitable for engineering applications.
On the other hand, adding binder to Moon dust to create a lunar dwelling seems very likely, as tolerances for building walls (just like on Earth) are not nearly as precise as tolerances for building precision electronics and equipment.
They may have really stumbled onto a very lucrative concept in that one.
A lot will depend on the purity of whatever materials are to be recovered. Metals will probably not be oxidized, since there is not a lot of oxygen on the moon, so it is at least possible that they may be in a condition to be used without much processing. The condition of metallic elements found on astroids and other planets is probably hard to know in advance of getting there.
I don't recall what was found about the samples that came back from the moon, or if they are considered to be representative of the rest of the moon.
An interesting concept is using a robot of some kind to support large mirror to focus solar energy to melt some of the material in place as a low-energy means of producing a protective shield over a structure. But that is a long way off, I would guess.
William, so far, everything I've read and seen say metals are available in trace amounts in lunar soil. In either case, it has to be extracted via a process no one's figured out yet due to low-gravity conditions and the need for either remote-controlled or autonomous robots. And thanks for emphasizing the difficulty of extracting--a lot of energy indeed. Less than here because of the lower gravity, but still a bigger deal than just using lunar soil directly to build stuff with additive manufacturing.
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