6 Challenges of 3D Printing for Space Voyages

A lot of the challenges can be boiled down to the lack of gravity in space.
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Created: 7/31/2019

Additive manufacturing or 3D printing is changing just about everything, revolutionizing the way we prototype, design, and even create new projects. Yet, this statement still does not capture the power of 3D printing and all of its potential. 3D printing is changing the way we dress, how we treat injuries, design cars, produce and eat food and construct homes. Even the science fiction-like idea of 3D printing human organs is plausible. 

3D printing leaders like RapidDirect have paved the way for the coming additive manufacturing revolution offering the latest 3D printing technologies to companies in the industries above, offering them fast and high-quality printed parts with a wide range of 3D printing materials. 


Though 3D printing technology is now more accessible, RapidDirect merges their knowledge of 3D printing with their other manufacturing processes to get you from prototype to functioning product with little to no hassle and as quickly as possible. Companies across the automotive, photography, airline and aerospace industry look to RapidDirect for their 3D printing expertise.

These industries are all being disrupted because of the power of 3D printing. One industry that is poised to change, and has already begun so, is the aerospace industry. Additive manufacturing is not only changing the way spacecraft are created but could end up playing a vital in humanity’s future colonization of planets. 

Yet, before we get too ahead of ourselves, there are some challenges with 3D printing in space, as the great beyond is a very tricky environment to operate in. Today we are going to explore some of the challenges with the aims to better gauge what roles additive manufacturing will play in our future space voyages. 

Imperfect Surfaces and Outer Space Don’t Mix

So, yes a 3D printed part or entire spacecraft is an exciting premise. The process could help cut down on waste as well a create lighter more fuel-efficient vehicles. However, Houston we do have a problem with this. 

3D printing leaves you with imperfect surfaces. Looking under a microscope close up at a 3D  printed part and this will become more evident. This might be ok here on Earth but space requires another level of precision as there is very little room for error. This surface era poses a risk of developing cracks and being damaged by the countless flying objects found in space. 

Gravity, You Kind of Need That 

6 Challenges of 3D Printing for Space Voyages
Source: NASA

Now were are not saying that it is impossible to 3D print in space with no gravity at all. However, it is not easy. If you were a researcher on the way to Mars looking to print tools for when you arrive, hopefully, your team already did not forget that. 

The basic design of a 3D printer stays the same however, 3D printing in zero gravity requires special considerations. Without gravity to hold layers together before they cool, the material itself must be sticky between layers to keep your 3D printed object together. 

FDM Printing is Still the Best and Only Solution

FDM printing is the standard printing process you might come across upon Googling “3D printing”. If you own a 3D printer there is a good chance that it is an FDM printer. FDM printing is great but some could argue that there are far more functional and precise additive manufacturing processes that involve the use of a powder or liquid resin. 

However, microgravity makes these processes almost impossible. The lack of gravity would make it difficult for these pieces to come together during the printing process. Nevertheless, there are companies currently working with NASA to look at potential alternatives to FDM printing. To learn more about FDM printing be sure to stop by RapidDirect

Things Can Get A Bit Sticky

As mentioned above, due to the lack of gravity, 3D printers need to find a way to hold parts into place and keep layers together during the FDM process. There have been some recorded cases of 3D printed tools getting stuck onto build plates to the point that the part was damaged and even the printer. 

Though there have been tons of successful 3D prints in space, the occasional problem still arises, meaning the process is not perfect yet.

Creating the Right Tools 

6 Challenges of 3D Printing for Space Voyages
Source: NASA

One of the biggest benefits of having a 3D printer on your ship is the fact that will be able to travel much lighter. Tools and spare parts needed for your trip can be just 3D printed on demand. However, how do you go about selecting what to bring along and what to actually 3D print? 

Though researchers work hard to ensure things go well on a voyage into space, the people and aircraft are always exposed to a series of unseen factors that are hard to prepare for let alone foresee. Picking what to bring on the trip and what to 3D print is not an easy choice.

Building “Homes” Could be a Logistical Nightmare 

6 Challenges of 3D Printing for Space Voyages
Source: NASA

When you finally make it to your planet X, you probably will not want to be working out in the harsh environment. Our living spaces and laboratories will probably be created by 3D printers. This process of having a 3D printer on a foreign planet is tricky and will require a healthy use of robotics and artificial intelligence to just get the job done. 

Not to mention the machinery will need to be protected from any outside factors like meteors, temperature changes, and any other environmental effects. Nevertheless, NASA recently held a competition asking for ideas on how we go about creating a 3D printed habitat for deep space exploration. The results were impressive and tackled some of the issues mentioned above. 

3D printing in Space

3D printing holds a range of possibilities in our exploration of the final frontier. Though there are challenges both government and private institutions are hard at work to perfect this technology for space travel. At the end of the day, FDM printing is the true hero of the 3D printing space race. Nevertheless, if you are curious about 3D printing technology and solutions back here on earth, stop by https://www.rapiddirect.com/3d-printing.   

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