Conquering other planets is within humanity’s grasp, but it’s important to travel light in order to do so, as it’d be very difficult to take everything. 3D printing looks like it will be the only technology to leave Earth.
Above all, if we want to permanently move home (leaving Earth and colonizing another world like Mars), we will have to start building from scratch with the materials available there.
So, it makes no sense to even take tools; they need to be made there.
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3D printing on other planets
The full potential of 3D printing machines is easy to see, as they can produce any type of parts, from nuts to spaceship engines.
This is how Alejandro Farah Simon, a researcher from the Institute of Astronomy at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), explains it in an interview for Tec Review.
According to the specialist, ‘additive printing’ is another term for 3D printing. The idea is that science students get used to using it on Earth so that they could get the most out of it on another planet.
“This means that students, in general, are beginning to think that they wouldn’t take everything; the idea is that they can use the natural resources of the other place to make their own tools, ”says Farah Simón.
According to the academic, the concept to be conveyed is that of building a new world without taking anything from Earth, except one’s own ingenuity and a 3D printer.
As part of this project, Farah is working on a UNAM project called “canned satellites”, in which university students create prototypes of satellites with just one condition: they must be manufactured using additive printing.
These are 20 cm2 cubical structures made of plastic materials. The final test for the satellites is for a passenger, an egg, to be strapped into these devices and emerge unscathed after a fall from a height of 400 meters.
“That’s why interfaces have to be printed: so this little astronaut can survive the impact,” says Farah.
Telescopes, electric cars and more
MakerBot, a 3D printer company, has already done its bit for space exploration.
“The replacement for the Hubble telescope, the James Webb, has parts made using our printers,” shares Felipe Rosales, director of MakerBot Latin America, in an interview for Tec Review.
This same technology will also be incorporated into engineering classes at Tecnológico de Monterrey, through the Tec21 educational model.
MakerBot has already worked with the Electthon team at Tec de Monterrey’s Mexico City campus on 3D printing projects for electric and radio-controlled cars.
“We have helped the team prototype parts for their electric Go Karts, such as the suspension, battery clips and even the transmission,” says Rosales.
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MakerBot kits cost between 1,200 and 9,000 dollars. According to Rosales, they shouldn’t be thought of as a solution to every problem, but rather as an additional tool.
“3D printing is one more tool, like a calculator or a robotic arm, in the productive and creative process; it’s not the holy grail, ”Rosales clarifies.
If there is no study, theory, and talent behind it, the users of this technology won’t be able to innovate. Machines can’t replace human ingenuity, but they can enhance it.
“Engineering or science students first have to work with a pencil, learn differential and integral calculus, and go back to basics so that they understand how (3D printing) technology works,” he explains.
100% industrial application
More pragmatically, MELTIO, a Spanish company working on additive manufacturing (although it isn’t considering taking its technology to Mars), does help terrestrial industries use their 3D printers more to increase productivity.
“We aren’t a niche solution: we’re targeting 90% of the most common parts of the market like gears, pistons, and connecting rods. We work with materials such as steel, titanium, aluminum, and copper, ”explains Juan Carlos Miralles, director of MELTIO for Latin America, in an interview for Tec Review.
A 3D printer from this company, designed for industrial laboratory environments, has a cost of just over 100,000 dollars. According to Miralles, they can significantly reduce production costs and times for parts.
“Our clients are industries and research laboratories in Europe and the United States. We have distributors in Brazil and Argentina, and we’re now about to enter the Mexican market, ”says Rosales.
Will 3D printing be the technology of the 21st century, whether it be on Mars, in academia, or in industry? It certainly looks like it.