European Space Agency receives prototype microgravity 3D printer

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After two years in development, Project
MELT
(Manufacturing of Experimental Layer Technology) has
resurfaced with a prototype microgravity 3D printer.

Made for the European Space
Agency
(ESA) the Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM)
breadboard machine is designed to 3D print high performance
polymers aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and other
off-world locations.

The collaborative behind Project MELT

ESA’s Project MELT has been undertaken by a consortium of 5
European technology companies.

A member of the ESA Brokers network, the Portugese non-profit
organization Instituto Pedro
Nunes
 is working to establish a connection between the
sci-tech development environment of the ALM machine, and its
potential commercial applications.

SonacaSpace
is contributing its structural, thermal and mechanical
engineering expertise to the project from a foundation of more
than 30 years in the business.

Project MELT consortium. Photo via BEEVERYCREATIVEProject MELT
consortium. Photo via BEEVERYCREATIVE

Bringing gravity to the collective, OHB System AG adds its
specialism as a developer of low-orbiting and
geostationary satellites.

Active Space, is
the fourth member of project MELT offering “bespoke
electro-mechanical systems for extreme harsh environments”
qualified for high gravity and high temperature radiation
environments.

The final member of the team is Portuguese 3D printing
technology startup BEEVERYCREATIVE, that has
been responsible for the overall design and development of the
3D printer prototype and its operating software.

Microgravity Additive Layer Manufacturing machine
specifications

At present, exact specifications of ESA’s ALM is unknown. Out
of necessity, it is compact and robust by design. Materials
that can be 3D printed in the process are defined as
“engineering polymers with high end mechanical and thermal
properties.” From the photos, sample objects appear to be made
from a PEEK or PEKK like filament, and the machine clearly uses
FDM/FFF based technology 9 see spool in section on left and
print bed).

FDM/FFF is also BEEVERYCREATIVE’s expertise, as evident in its

BEETHEFIRST 3D printer
.

ESA's Microgravity 3D printer. Photo via BEEVERYCREATIVEESA’s Microgravity 3D
printer. Photo via BEEVERYCREATIVE

Made in Space

As 3D Printing Industry followers will know, American in-space
manufacturing company Made In
Space
has had a 3D printer (the
Additive Manufacturing Facility
/AMF) aboard the ISS since
2014.

The AMF has a print volume of 140 x 100 x 100 mm (L x W x H)
and works on an open materials platform. The grade of materials
available for this system are “space-friendly” and include ABS,
Green PE and PEI/PC.

Recently, the company has also been awarded a NASA Phase 2 Small Business
Innovation Research (SBIR) for
development of a microgravity metal 3D printer
.

3D printing at ESA

At ESA, a great deal of investment has been made into companies
using 3D printing to build next generation rocket engines.

In December 2017, the Ariane Group signed

a $75 million contract with ESA
for the development of
engine tipped for release in 2030.

With the UK Space Agency, ESA has also contributed
£6
0
million (approx. $85.1 million) to SABRE engine
development
.

Also in development is ESA’s 3D
printed Lunar and Martian regolith project
.

For updates on Project MELT and news from ESA, NASA and
more, subscribe to our industry-leading newsletter,
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 here.

Featured image shows ESA’s Microgravity 3D printer.
Photo via BEEVERYCREATIVE

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