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How 3D Printing Could Help Keep the ISS In Orbit

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the extension-by-extrusion dept.

ISS 200

Despite all the best intentions and meticulous overengineering, some of the equipment on spacecraft like the ISS inevitably breaks. An anonymous reader poses the question "Why carry out a very expensive launch into space to resupply the ISS, when astronauts could just manufacture replacement parts themselves?" Startup Made in Space is working on a space-oriented 3D printing system to make it easy to transmit the information needed to pop out complex shapes (as might be in delicate mechanical systems), but the founders are also talking about using 3D printers to jump-start construction if humans extend their presence from the Earth to other planets (or revisit the moon).

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First Post from ISS (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38385392)

If this isn't actually First Post then I blame the latency.

Materials (5, Insightful)

ieatcookies (1490517) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385480)

It's a pretty cool way to manufacture things when you need them - no question there. Will this device be able to use it's own excess waste after making something? Will we have to ship tons of materials up only to ditch some large percentage of waste?

Re:Materials (5, Informative)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386032)

With 3D printing there is little to no waste. That's why it's called additive manufacturing.

The bigger issue is finishing, most 3D printed parts will need some. I'm sure they don't want metal or plastic filings floating around in the ISS, so that could be tricky.

Re:Materials (4, Interesting)

Manfre (631065) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386390)

There can be a lot of waste, depending on the part that is being printed. Fill material and the chemicals required to dissolve it would account for a majority of the waste.

Re:Materials (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38386442)

Another major hurdle would be to handle the smell of melted plastic. You can't vent the air in the ISS since there is no "new" air to replace it with. Everything that goes up has to odor-neutral so as not to cause headaches or nausea. In this case that would include not only removing the smell from the extruding/deposition process, but also the device and the base material as well.

Re:Materials (2)

NevarMore (248971) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386614)

With 3D printing there is little to no waste. That's why it's called additive manufacturing.

The bigger issue is finishing, most 3D printed parts will need some. I'm sure they don't want metal or plastic filings floating around in the ISS, so that could be tricky.

Just do what I do when I don't want to cleanup sawdust or shavings in my house, just pop outside.... oh right.

Re:Materials (2)

durrr (1316311) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386762)

Electron beam melting can be used to create high quality metal objects(no need to bake in oven as with sintered products), the drawback back here on earth is that you need a quite good vacuum to use it, shouldn't be a problem out in space.

Re:Materials (1)

tantaliz3 (1074234) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386232)

What we need in addition to this are mass drivers. Rail gun systems designed purely for in-animate mass and materials. They would reduce launch costs to Men and capsules alone. Build everything in space I say, plenty of room.

Re:Materials (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386680)

Better to launch the stuff off the moon into an orbit where a station can capture it for manufacturing.

A multi-country project (US, EU, Russia, China, India) could enforce the power ceilings and trajectory controls on the launcher to prevent it from becoming a gun pointed at the Earth. Maybe a Far Side launcher with each country harboring takedown weapons pointed at the muzzle, in case they didn't approve a shot.

Re:Materials (1)

garyrich (30652) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386342)

Didn't we only recently have tons of material up there? Aluminum, plastics, all sorts of good stuff. But no, we just flew it back to put in a museum.

Re:Materials (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38386408)

Or worse, burning it up while deorbiting.

Re:Materials (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386446)

Didn't we only recently have tons of material up there? Aluminum, plastics, all sorts of good stuff. But no, we just flew it back to put in a museum.

Yeah! Let's strand half a dozen people in orbit with a big pile of incompatible parts. That'll extend the life of the ISS.

Re:Materials (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38386760)

... The tons of material were needed to send the crew home.

Re:Materials (1)

VernonNemitz (581327) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386450)

I suspect for any part that can be made via 3D printing, the replaced part can be ground up into powder suitable for making a new part. Remember that the ISS is surrounded by lots of vacuum, and various materials have exhibited some interesting properties in a vacuum that they don't exhibit on Earth. For more details, especially regarding the "stickiness" a substance needs to make a part in a 3D printer, see this old idea [halfbakery.com] .

Idea (5, Interesting)

phrostie (121428) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385484)

I like the general concept here, but it isn't much more sustainable than sending up supplies.
you still need to send up the raw material.

now cool would be to make 3Dprinters work with materials refine-able from the surface of the moon or mars.
instead of sending a new probe every few years, send a "Maker"
it would have two parts.
gatherer and a factory(with the 3Dprinter).

transmit the new plans and away it goes.

just thinking and rambling

call it Thrambling

Re:Idea (5, Interesting)

Kn45h3r (2472596) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385562)

The main advantage would be to reduce the amount of spare parts they need to keep on hand in case they need them in a hurry. Additionally broken parts could possibly be melted down and reused.

Re:Idea (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385694)

The main advantage would be to reduce the amount of spare parts they need to keep on hand in case they need them in a hurry. Additionally broken parts could possibly be melted down and reused.

I've actually read some old NASA studies for taking the external tanks to a space station, melting them down and using the aluminium to build new structures. Obviously building girders or whatever is rather different to building complex mechanical or life support components.

Re:Idea (3, Interesting)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385868)

I've actually read some old NASA studies for taking the external tanks to a space station, melting them down and using the aluminium to build new structures.

Another old idea was to use the external tank as storage/habitable/engineering structures.
That main tank weighs more and has more usable space than the max capacity of the shuttle.
It's a crying shame that we spent a few decades bringing them to the edge of orbit, then letting them burn up in the atmosphere.

Re:Idea (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386278)

It's worth considering that they had a bit of hydrazine still inside, so they weren't exactly ready for human occupation...

Re:Idea (4, Informative)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386440)

It's worth considering that they had a bit of hydrazine still inside, so they weren't exactly ready for human occupation...

Cut a hole in one end for the airlock/docking unit. Leave it open to space for a month, and the hydrazine problem should mostly evaporate.

If there's still a bit of worry, then cover the hole, fill the tank with LOX and light a match, then repeat the "open to space, wait a month" thing.

All this assuming, of course, that they had hydrazine in the LOX/LH2 external tank, which they didn't.

Re:Idea (1)

Zorpheus (857617) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386460)

It contains liquid nitrogen and liquid oxygen. So no problem after replacing the atmosphere.

Re:Idea (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385892)

More interesting were the plans for 'wet workshops', where the external tanks themselves would be the space station.

Re:Idea (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385976)

I've never seen a 3D printer that could take recycle stock. RepRap Mendel doesn't; that would be an interesting project: a heated hopper that feeds raw feedstock into the extruder as a liquid stream, rather than a wire filament.

Re:Idea (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386132)

It might be easier to have another machine to recycle the material back into spools of filament (although I don't think recycling plastic is so simple as melting it down).

Re:Idea (2)

Amouth (879122) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386284)

(although I don't think recycling plastic is so simple as melting it down).

that is completely dependent on the type of plastic you are using

Re:Idea (4, Insightful)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385568)

I like the general concept here, but it isn't much more sustainable than sending up supplies. you still need to send up the raw material.

Which could be included on the regularly-scheduled crew launches, like food. Having a stock of material on board means that if some part breaks, it's likely fixable without an extra unscheduled launch, which is currently a very expensive option.

Re:Idea (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385750)

We also have to consider material type. You can't make a rubber gasket, or a hose.

And you need to control for particulate waste from the machine.

Not that we shouldn't send one, but lets recognize the limitations.

Re:Idea (1)

rickb928 (945187) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385838)

Gaskets are more of a 2-D problem, send them a Crikcut :)

Hoses are surprisingly interchangeable. It's the fittings that are all the trouble. those are often fabricated onsite on Earth, and it might eventually be worth sending up a tool one day.

Re:Idea (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386768)

The linings of the hoses are not necessarily interchangeable, depending on what the hose carries.

Re:Idea (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385596)

If there was some means of recycling the broken part, then you wouldn't have to continually send up raw material supplies. Just throw the broken bits into the hopper, and out comes a brand new part.

Re:Idea (2)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385724)

Newton would like a word with you.

Re:Idea (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386756)

Sorry, I should have said 'proverbial hopper'. Obviously, since a standard hopper is dependent on gravity for its operation, it will not work in space. Perhaps some sort of air driven cyclone hopper, or a pair of part sandwiching conveyor belts, or an augur system of some sort would work. I apologize for the confusion my post may have caused.

Re:Idea (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385656)

now cool would be to make 3Dprinters work with materials refine-able from the surface of the moon or mars.
instead of sending a new probe every few years, send a "Maker"

Yeah, it always seems cool until it becomes sentient and starts firing rocks at us...

Re:Idea (1)

DarthBart (640519) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385988)

The chances of that are a million to one. But still....

Re:Idea (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386458)

"The Cylons were created by Man.
They were created to make life easier on the 12 Colonies.
And then the day came when the Cylons decided to kill their Masters.
After a long and bloody struggle, an armistice was declared.
The Cylons left for another world to call their own.
A remote space station was built where Cylon and Human could meet and maintain diplomatic relations.
Every year the Colonials send an officer.
The Cylons send no-one.
No one has seen or heard from the Cylons in over forty years."

Six: "Are you alive?"

  - Battlestar Galactica (2003) opening scene

"The children of Man are coming home."

A cautionary tale, methink.

Re:Idea (2)

steelyeyedmissileman (1657583) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385666)

One advantage is that the raw supplies are inherently able to withstand the flight up there, so no investment has to be made into over-engineering the parts to survive being shaken to pieces by a rocket.

The question I had is how the polymers they're using behave in vacuum; they'll almost certainly outgas like crazy. How strong/durable do the parts remain after a given amount of time in space? What about UV light? I'd love to see them do some materials testing before sending an expensive printer up only to find out the parts don't last long enough to be useful.

Re:Idea (4, Informative)

squidflakes (905524) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385924)

Volatile Organic Compounds are a huge problem in any sealed environment. Not only are there human health effects, but the effects on some delicate instruments and machinery can be quite severe. This is why there is a very tight list of approved materials that can be used for construction in human-rated space equipment.

That whole "new-car smell" is pretty toxic when that's all you're breathing.

Re:Idea (2)

macraig (621737) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385758)

The point here isn't improvement in sustainability; it's a foregone conclusion that the ISS and fledgling extraterrestrial colonies aren't sustainable.

This is about JIT manufacturing and resupply. If something breaks, they likely need the replacement part NOW, not whenever the next Soyuz can happen to float past.

Re:Idea (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386048)

To me, that sounds like an improvement in sustainability. You're still going to require semi-regular supplies of food and more complex equipment, but a macroscale constructor would allow them a greater level of self-sufficiency.

Re:Idea (2)

ssyladin (458003) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385856)

Well, if you are shipping up a spool of feed material wire (a la MakerBot), or even powder cartriges, then they'll likely be able to better tolerate a brutal high-g launch than delicate, precision tuned parts manufactured on earth. Now you can use linear induction launch methods (rail gun launchers) and high-g launch systems to more cheaply get the raw materials into orbit, and transform them once they're up there. Plus, its very likely you'd save on packaging overhead (less padding & whatnot), lowering your overhead further.

Re:Idea (1)

andyring (100627) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386122)

"Computer - tea, Earl gray, hot."

Re:Idea (1)

necro81 (917438) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386308)

Some 3D printing solutions spread a layer of powder, then bind it together by selectively printing glue. Drop the stage by one layer, spread more powder, print binder, repeat. This is the technology used by Z-Corporation for their products.

In this case, you'd be sending up big tanks of binder, and using the abundant regolith of the moon to create solid objects.

Unfortunately, this would only be appropriate for making a small minority of the kinds of things you need on a lunar colony. You could use it to create blocks of arbitrary shape for use in structures (like legos or linkin' logs). Think of it as a way to print intricate concrete structures. If you got creative you could build very impressive structures: imagine how lofty a stone-built cathedral could be in 1/6th gravity! But for machinery it would totally suck: regolith is basically powdered volcanic glass and unweathered sand, and is abrasive as hell.

Re:Idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38386370)

The 3d printers I've seen required gravity.

As mentioned, filing parts is NOT recommended inside the ISS. Doing it outside just adds more to the space junk that will eventually knock out satellites.

A good idea for the moon or mars IF you can get the materials.

But it's great that people are thinking about new developments, instead of relying on technology from twenty or thirty years ago, which seem quaint by today's standards.

Re:Idea (2)

Yakasha (42321) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386532)

I like the general concept here, but it isn't much more sustainable than sending up supplies. you still need to send up the raw material.

Absolutely wrong. It is far more efficient to just send up blocks of various materials, ala printer cartridges, instead of trying to predict when and how often specific parts will fail and need to be replaced.

You could send up 10 type A widgets, 10 type B widgets, 8 type C widgets, and be absolutely screwed should your 8th type C widget die while you still have 9 type A widgets collecting space dust... or you could just send up the equivalent weight of raw materials and print up whatever widget you need as you need it.

Furthermore, many space used systems are designed in less-than-optimal fashion for the sole purpose of re-using and sharing parts just so they don't have to ship 2 different replacement parts up. 3d-printing would allow every system to have its own parts, and thus not be as limited.

Replicate itself (1)

mrops (927562) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386586)

It could even manufacture and assemble another 3D printer if the need be, what could go wrong?

Yawn. (0)

anyGould (1295481) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385490)

It's a cool idea, but right now it's just that - a cool idea that's trying to generate buzz and funding. Let me know when they put the prototype up.

Let's get rid of the formalities here... (3, Insightful)

Sfing_ter (99478) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385524)

Let's get rid of the formalities here... and call it what we are all thinking it is... A REPLICATOR. (albeit a very basic one, but still...)
Unless of course there is a "royalty" fee attached to calling something that replicates items a REPLICATOR...

Re:Let's get rid of the formalities here... (4, Funny)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385802)

Let's get rid of the formalities here... and call it what we are all thinking it is... A REPLICATOR.

For the love of GOD I hope you're talking about the Star Trek kind, not the Stargate kind of Replicator.

Re:Let's get rid of the formalities here... (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386488)

try asking one of those things for a cup of tea...

Which one will win ? (1)

vikingpower (768921) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385528)

There are two ways, it seems, to "3D-print" parts of equipment: either top-down, which is basically what 3D printers do, or bottom-up, which is how it would be done by nano-manufacturing. One wonders which method will win ?

Re:Which one will win ? (2)

rickb928 (945187) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385930)

If they want to use any of the resin methods, I hope gravity isn't as essential as it once seemed for these to work properly. What I've seen essentially hardened liquid resin, and seemed to rely on gravity to hold the part 'down' so it didn't drift around. A space model might fab the part with an anchor embedded into the bottom of the vat I suppose. Then all ya gotta do is empty the vat and pull the part.

But the subtractives essentially create a lot of loose waste. You may not fully appreciate how much easier it is to clean up on Earth, where gravity holds that shit down for you, that is what isn't airborne.On the ISS, everything floats about. The shavings will have to be contained even more carefully. Sounds like an entire module would be the place for the machine shop.

ST:TNG (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38385540)

So... a replicator?

Base materials (3, Interesting)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385548)

Sometimes is not enough that a part have certain (maybe complex or delicate) shape, but also the materials that make it. Until you have true replicators this could make quick plastic fixes, but won't be a generic solution for all kind of problems. And, of course, you need to lift whatever uses the printer to make the parts.

Re:Base materials (3, Informative)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385854)

Sometimes is not enough that a part have certain (maybe complex or delicate) shape, but also the materials that make it.

This. And it's something proponents of 3D printing regularly miss - there's more to a physical part than just it's shape. Things like conductivity, strength, creep resistance, reactivity, etc... etc.. matter. They matter a great deal, and it's why the ISS isn't all made of a single material to start with.
 

And, of course, you need to lift whatever uses the printer to make the parts.

The counter to this argument is that you have to lift the parts too... but that leads to *another* thing that many people that have commented so far are missing - time. It takes time to print the part, while a spare can simply be unwrapped and installed straight away. With 3D printing, your MTTR (Mean Time To Repair) goes way, way up.

Re:Base materials (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38385992)

I would think that this is a situation where JIT is a poor choice. Better to have a spare everything on hand, and fire up the 3D printer to make the next one while you're installing your current spare.

Re:Base materials (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38386094)

But you could still have a spare where you replace that spare after use with the part from the 3D printer.

Re:Base materials (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386568)

It takes time to print the part, while a spare can simply be unwrapped and installed straight away. With 3D printing, your MTTR (Mean Time To Repair) goes way, way up.

Assuming, of course, that you have the spare part in site, this is true.

On the other hand, if it has to be delivered by Soyuz, you might be waiting for a while. Months, perhaps...

Note that for operations farther from Earth, being able to make spares from generic materials is a major advance - instead of thousands (tens of thousands) of spares that need to be kept on hand, you need only a small number of unique materials in bulk, and your little replicator to turn the basic stock into whichever of the ten thousand parts is faulty today.

Much better than a wait of a year or two for the next shipment to Phobos Port....

Materials and Energy? (3, Interesting)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385556)

Are the materials that 3D printing is capable of using able to stand up to the tasks required of them?

It has been my understanding that most of the materials used are plastic, and not just any plastic will do, and
metal parts (if even possible) are simply not the same as cast and machined parts, either in strength or
precision.

Further this is done with powdered media, which will require advanced containment in a weightless environment, and a fair amount of power to operate the equipment. These machines aren't small enough yet to launch and install easily, so getting it there would be a problem.,

Further, the media plastic needs to be replaced often, sifted and cleaned/recycled.

In the final analysis, given the state of the art of 3d printing, I suspect it would be cheaper to launch each part as needed than it would be to launch a fresh batch of media to make each part.

Then there is the whole issue of the real value of the ISS, which has largely become a Russian playground with
no real mission, and the service life was planned to end in 2015, recently extended to 2020. The Russians want
to extend it to 2028 [space-travel.com] , with nothing but a pie in the sky mission statement.

Re:Materials and Energy? (4, Informative)

AdrianKemp (1988748) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385894)

They're starting to use 3d printing in aircraft parts because they can print more complex, lighter and stronger shapes with the printers. This is being done with metal.

However, I've absolutely no doubt that the machines that are doing it are not the sort of thing that you'll be able to put on the ISS.

The moon, on the other hand, that's something worth considering.

Re:Materials and Energy? (1)

necro81 (917438) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386436)

They're starting to use 3d printing in aircraft parts because they can print more complex, lighter and stronger shapes with the printers. This is being done with metal.

A lot of those printed parts are still machined after the fact, because in many cases you need smooth, flat, round, toleranced, etc. geometry to interface with with parts. Using 3D printing of metal is a faster and cheaper way of doing low-volume prototype and production than casting, but cast parts are rarely used straight-from-the-mold.

Re:Materials and Energy? (2)

AdrianKemp (1988748) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386678)

Well, that's true and false at the same time...

In many cases the reason they're printing them in the first place is because they *can't* be machined the way they want, so machining after the fact isn't an option.

This is an example, not actually being used in production as far as I know; but the idea is that it will be.
http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/38352/?mod=MagOur [technologyreview.com]

However you're right about the tolerance and smoothness. The part I linked and others like it don't need to be perfect around the edges (figuratively and literally) whereas more than likely almost everything in the ISS does.

Better, Stronger (1)

alexander_686 (957440) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386004)

Printing 3D in metals has been around for a long time - it's just more expensive then printing in plasic.

Materialise makes a 3D printer that can print titanium hip replacements. Because it can print in 3D it can replicate the structure of bones (i.e. lots of small holes) - So you get something lighter without diminishing strength.

3D printing without gravity? (1)

Brannon (221550) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385558)

Good luck.

Re:3D printing without gravity? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38385820)

Just to be pedantic, since this is a common misconception, of course there is gravity. The spacestation and its inhabitants are in a constant state of freefall. If there were no gravity, the station would not orbit. However, since both the station and its inhabitants are falling at the same rate, there is weightlessness.

If you really want to be pendantic (1)

Brannon (221550) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386470)

then you would note that even if they weren't in orbit of a planet or the Sun, there would still be gravity because everything with mass exerts a gravitational force. So there is gravity attracting the astronauts to the spacestation and to one another.

Note how this indulgent exposition added so little to the discussion. Hmmmm.

Re:3D printing without gravity? (2)

WillHirsch (2511496) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385890)

RTFA. It shows them testing 3D printers in zero-gravity. No "luck" required, just sense.

Microgravity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38385560)

Didn't read, am at work. Current 3d printers need gravity to avoid spraying the powder all over the place, and solid ground to absorb machine oscillation. How is this supposed to work in microgravity?

Re:Microgravity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38386138)

Pressure?

Re:Microgravity (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386480)

They don't need to use a powder. Some use filaments of plastic which are then melted and placed one tiny piece at a time. I'm sure gravity's a factor but there's some chance those could operate on just adhesive and cohesive forces. Some others use a liquid that hardens when hit with a UV light, again once the base of the object being printed is secure it might be possible to use that kind of printer without gravity.

Re:Microgravity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38386780)

"placed". How do you think that works in free fall you utter baboon?

But can it make... (1)

VeryVito (807017) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385578)

...a nice, hot cup of tea?

Re:But can it make... (1)

tom17 (659054) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385798)

Yes, but it tastes filthy! Here take this cup back!

Earl Grey, (1)

Latent Heat (558884) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386020)

tea, hot!

Or maybe that is the wrong sci-fi metaphor, you were thinking Hitchhiker's Guide? But if I remember, the Star Trek replicator made a cup of tea no problemo, but in the Hitchhiker's universe, making that nice, hot cup of tea blue-screened the ship's computer and got them into a spot of trouble?

Re:Earl Grey, (1)

VeryVito (807017) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386124)

Yep, Hitchhiker's it is. Figured somebody had to represent HG2G fans in this apparent sea of Trekkies.

Re:But can it make... (2)

rwise2112 (648849) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386302)

Well .... almost exactly, but not quite, entirely unlike tea!

Wait... what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38385622)

Didn't they just start building the ISS?

Maybe they should rename it to FAIL

Becasue (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385674)

you need to take the material with you any ways? 3d Printers don't create something from nothing.

That said, ans a universal tool to hedge against running out of some unplanned for part, then it's a good idea.

Better if it can use material found at the locate we go to, saw Mars.

Re:Becasue (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386616)

There have actually been proposals for a robot that would harvest Calcium Oxide and Aluminate from the lunar soil, and combine them with subsurface water as a form of cement. It would then proceed to build sealed domes that could be used for a future base, protected from radiation and micrometeorites.

Cool and all.. (2)

JBMcB (73720) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385682)

The ISS is super cool - the idea of a permanent human presence in near-space is awesome. However, it's kind of a colossal waste of money, in terms of hard science done per dollar spent. I don't think there's a single experiment done up there that couldn't be done autonomously. I don't think we're learning much more about living in space that hasn't already been explored in Skylab or Mir.

If the point of the ISS is to inspire people, then the mission should have been more inspiring, instead of parking people in orbit for a while, which has already been done. How about sending components to the moon to build an orbital spaceyard? Launching deep-space missions from the moon would be much more efficient, if we can manage to get the machinery up there.

Re:Cool and all.. (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386164)

The whole point of the ISS is to develop techniques for long term manned presence in space. Just sitting there staring out the porthole goes a long way to doing that. You don't need to do 'science'. Learning what materials work and don't work, how to fix things (a biggy), how to build things, the boring mechanics of just supplying the thing for years and keeping the crew sane - that's important.

The Russians are apparently fond of space rated duct tape for repairs. A 3D printer that was space rated could be useful (maybe yes, maybe no) but the engineering required to get it working in Zero G without poisoning the crew is very much non trivial. And something that should be done.

If you think that fully functional 3D printers are going to autoland on Mars with the ability to crank out everything from a spoon to a high pressure valve, well, you've been reading too much Kim Stanley Robinson. Baby steps people, baby steps.

Limited Scenarios. Unlimited Risk. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38385686)

Cheap temporary stop-gap solutions? Sure. Manufacturing new components for the station? Hell no!

So you want to ship raw materials to the station and then have it manufactured on the station... that's ridiculous for a few reasons:
1) The raw materials will weigh more than the finished product. Therefore, it's more expensive to launch a block of material than it is to launch the smaller, lighter component made from that material.
2) Material strength. What exactly could they "print" and how critical is it for station operation? If you're going to be replacing the latch on the outer door with a "printed" component, I think I'll just throw myself out into space and get it over with.

This 3D printing shit is a fad, just like Arduino. Hammer in search of nails.

Re:Limited Scenarios. Unlimited Risk. (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385728)

1) The raw materials will weigh more than the finished product. Therefore, it's more expensive to launch a block of material than it is to launch the smaller, lighter component made from that material.

Not when a rocket launch costs, say, $50,000,000 whether you send one kilogram of parts or five tons of parts. If something has to be replaced tomorrow and you don't have a spare, then you can't wait until the next scheduled supply flight.

Re:Limited Scenarios. Unlimited Risk. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38385898)

If you're on a space station and some critical life support component needs to be replaced immediately, and you don't already have a spare (or two!) already up there, then I pray mercy on your soul. If they want to 3D-print little widgets for the various experiments, then sure, it sounds like a great idea.

Re:Limited Scenarios. Unlimited Risk. (1)

hypergreatthing (254983) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386090)

OR
you could...
manufacture parts on the moon, launch them into HEO without any fuel, assemble them and presto, new space station.

You're really not thinking this through. You could send a automated mission to mars, the moon, an asteroid and build a suitable habitat or a return vehicle with fuel all there. The mission could be launched a year before and have the destination all ready for inhabitants.

Ohh and btw, raw materials are never heavier than the finished products. Do you suggest that we somehow create more matter because of 3d printing?

Where's Geordi LaForge... (1)

MrWin2kMan (918702) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385764)

Hmm....'replicators' 'printing' components out of raw materials... I'm continually amazed by how many things from 'Star Trek' appear in everyday life...

Re:Where's Geordi LaForge... (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#38385824)

I'm continually amazed by how many things from 'Star Trek' appear in everyday life...

You think 'Star Trek' invented the idea of a machine that could assemble things from raw materials?

I'm pretty sure I've read 50s SF stories which incorporated them, if not earlier.

Re:Where's Geordi LaForge... (1)

ChrisMP1 (1130781) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386606)

He said "from 'Star Trek'", not "created by 'Star Trek'".

Printer parts...? (1)

Palidase (566673) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386040)

I am trying to figure out whether this really solves the problem, or just moves it. The idea establishes the printer as being a fairly critical component. However in the event of failure, it would obviously not be available to generate spares. So, would an inventory of spares need to be generated on arrival, along with the requisite storage space, or would repairs rely on a delivery...

not everything is plastic... (4, Interesting)

wierd_w (1375923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386076)

I realize that with the activities of the "for the children!" Groups out there that it is easy to presume everything is made of plastic these days, but this simply isn't true.

I would be willing to bet money that the vast majority of the innards of the ISS's superstructure is mostly made from 2024 or 7075 aluminum alloy, sprayed with hexavalent cromium primer.

Those are the two most commonly used aluminum alloys used in aerospace fabrication (I make prints citing them all the time at work), and for strength reasons these need to be heat treated in most circumstances after being formed or milled. A powder or paste based prototype printer just won't be able to produce these alloys, because the desired mechanical properties are a result of the metalurgical crystaline structures present in them after annealing and heat treating. That is, unless you want to ship a whole annealing oven and solution heat treatment system up there... (just so you know, that equipment isn't light.)

For composite materials, conventional heat shaped plastics are not common either. Usually a thermally cured resin material is used, such as with phenolic, or with carbon fiber composite. Doing thse in space would be a nightmare, since not only do you deal with a sticky, honey like liquid with toxic fumes, and the curing oven, you also need a vacuum bag machine and the finished product must be sanded, creating tiny (toxic) particles to float around the ventilation system.

I could see a prototype maching puking out ceramic paste parts prior to electric kilning, or plastic parts, but not the main structural parts made from alloy or composites.

I don't see the justification for the added launch expense of bringing one and its consumables along.

OP needs to think this through a bit more... (3, Insightful)

Pvt_Waldo (459439) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386092)

The OP asks, "Why carry out a very expensive launch into space to resupply the ISS..." and the answer is pretty simple...

It's expensive to boost mass up into orbit. 3D printers take raw materials to print with. It's either send up the raw materials for the 3D printer to use, or send up the finished product, and pay for that launch. One could I suppose harvest space junk and asteroids and use that material, but that's not going to come cheap either.

Note, this is the truth of the ISS. Something like a base on Mars or the Moon, that's another story. Then it's worth figuring out how to utilize the local resources to feed a 3D printer.

What happens when... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38386128)

What happens when the 3D printer breaks?

Why not send up a CNC? (1)

Moof123 (1292134) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386140)

What I didn't see was a good explanation of what the most common spare parts needed were? What exactly wears out? Can those broken pieces even be safely swapped out in the first place?

All that said, a CNC and a carefully picked set of raw chunks of aluminum should work. Sadly though, you'd have to wear out a lot of parts before you could justify the weight versus an equivalent weight of spare parts.

Lastly, given that the ISS is a manned station, it will see regular resupply every several months. I just don't see how any decently capable machine could really prove it's worth above and beyond the ability to toss spare parts onto the next resupply capsule.

Re:Why not send up a CNC? (1)

wierd_w (1375923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386346)

No joke!

A cnc machine is built heavier than big momma's fat ass, and for a good reason! They are built to be as heavy as possible, so that the accoustic vibrations and mechanical actuator movement inside will not jack with table and spindle positioning in a meaningful way. (They weigh so much that it takes epic shittons of energy to move them. That's the point.)

They are made that way so the machine can have the .001 inch and tighter machine tolerances required for aerospace.

They weigh several tons, even for a small one like a D500.

Even then, they are messy. They are designed to flood coolant on the cutting tool, to keep the tool from losing its tempering, and to keep the milled part from melting. (Especially true of aluminum.) Some systems use forced air, but the vast majority use liquid coolant, that presumes gravity will be present.

Also, CNC systems are not fully automated "load it and forget it" systems. A lot can go wrong during operation, which is why they have full time operators. (And between you and me, cnc operators tend to be joe sixpack.)

In space, no one can hear your scream (2)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386152)

"PC Load Letter???"

What's in a name (1)

jitterman (987991) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386186)

...presence from the Earth to other planets...

I suppose those other planets would be "the Mars" or "the Venus." I know, it's pedantic, but good grief I how I do hate that article when used in front of the name of our planet.

Not posting AC because, well, that would be cowardly despite the negative votes I will get, for both "off-topic" and "troll."

Launching Space Manufacturing (5, Insightful)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386490)

Even if this project isn't necessary (or more useful than alternatives), it is totally worth doing for its own sake. The ISS should launch the era of space based manufacturing. That R&D will give us a huge jump into issues of microgravity and orbital mechanics, as well as 100% recycling/reuse of manufacturing byproducts. But it will also move forward both automated and remote manufacturing, especially of short-run items, that will improve manufacturing here on Earth.

It will give us a reason to exploit the nearby near-vacuum, and other local environment resources (eg. direct solar - in large quantities, but also causing very high temperature gradients in light/shade). Hard radiation and solar wind could help us make things that are impossible or prohibitively expensive on Earth. And it will also create demand for harvesting planetoid resources, whether the Moon, asteroids or other interplanetary matter. Which will bootstrap the further exploitation of the solar system.

Space-based manufacturing is how we should make the things that we disperse around the solar system, instead of launching the matter out of Earth's gravity well. We should be launching only what we need to make devices that make things. We should be able to transmit data and instructions for making new machines, some of which will take new data and instructions for making newer machines. Some of these machines can be very large - like other orbital stations, or other probes to launch. We should get started making things in orbit that can be landed on the Moon to start a base there, exploiting Lunar materials for further manufacturing.

And all of these improvements will bring better manufacturing back to Earth, even if only in lessons learned.

The ISS was worth doing for its own sake. What an achievement! It inspires the world. But now that it's largely completed, it should be our platform for projects that aren't an end in themselves. Moving humanity's tool use into effective use and occupation of the extraterrestrial neighborhood will be a vast dividend that will never stop paying us back.

Printing in zero gravity (1)

b3njam1n (961420) | more than 2 years ago | (#38386604)

Does anyone have questions about how the material gets from the jet to the product and sets in zero-gravity? Seems to me there would be some issues with a finished product if precision is key (and it happens to be paramount in most everything NASA does). Thoughts?

For that matter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38386750)

Why not make a large construction platform the makes anything we need in space. A giant 3d printer. We simply launch the chemicals it requires, then we program it to create a space craft, or station or whatever we need on the most part.

That brings up the next question. Can those chemicals be made from material on the moon, and assuming we had all the infrastructure already there, would it be less expensive to launch supplies manufactured on the moon to low earth orbit instead of from earth itself?

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