Metalysis named as ESA Grand Challenger in offworld terraforming project

The European Space Agency (ESA) has named Metalysis, a UK based materials company, their first ESA Grand Challenger.

During the Global Space Economic Workshop (GSEW) in Paris, France, Eric Morel de Westgaver, ESA Director for Industry, Procurement and Legal Affairs, made the announcement to Metalysis CEO, Dr. Dion Vaughan.

The award will see research and development sponsored by Metalysis, and overseen by ESA focused on In Situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU).

ISRU concerns the “extraction and production of valuable metals and advanced terrestrial manufacturing technologies that pose potential solutions for the future space economy.”

The use of In Situ resources as a feedstock for 3D printing is the focus of a number of projects, including work by the University of Central Florida and NASA are on ‘molten regolith electrolysis’. Also, work by Germany’s PT Scientists group has explored how regolith could be used as the building blocks for future off-world structures.

Metalysis CEO, Dr. Dion Vaughan, described the work as, “An R&D project which contemplates taking our technology and applying it to 3D printing systems in terraforming environments is an ambitious undertaking, enabled by our next phase of scale-up in the U.K.”

Metalysis has been on the 3D Printing Industry radar for some time. The company is focused on commercializing the Fray-Farthing-Chen (“FFC”) Process, which would lead to a substantial decrease in prices for a range of metal and alloy powders.

Lowering the cost of additive manufacturing

Material costs as a barrier to the widespread adoption of additive manufacturing are a recurring theme at 3D printing conferences. In an earlier interview with 3D Printing Industry, Metalysis explained how they intend to lower this cost – specifically starting with a feedstock that costs $2.50 per kilo versus the $60 to $70 per kilo that other techniques to produce metal powders for additive manufacturing use.

Currently Metalysis is scaling up ‘Generation 4’ of its technology. Generation 4, which Metalysis say is on track to complete in 2017, will enable ‘Generation 5’: manufacturing options for thousands of tonnes per annum of metal and alloy powders. Earlier this year 3D Printing Industry attended the opening the company’s Materials Discovery Center in South Yorkshire, UK.

Opening the Metalysis Materials Discovery Center. Photo by Beau JacksonOpening the Metalysis Materials Discovery Center. Photo by Beau Jackson
The Metalysis Materials Discovery Center. Photo by Beau Jackson

Production takes place in electrochemical cells and the technology is intended to be modular. The shipping container sized cells are designed to produce metal and alloys powders used in aerospace, automotive and 3D printing applications.

Dr. Vaughan said, “ESA’s focus on developing transferable technologies, with industries offering economic benefits on earth and in space, is an excellent fit for Metalysis as we progress our Generation 5 project, which will showcase multiple modular electrochemical units, adjustable within a Factory of the Future manufacturing scenario.”

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Featured image shows Metalysis and ESA announcing the 1st Grand Challenge at the Global Space Economic Workshop (GSEW) in Paris, France. Photo via Metalysis.