Even though the network of self-replicating 3D printer communities consist of highly intelligent individual units, the replicating machines themselves are not yet self-sustainable and functional without any human interaction – as opposed to the Replicators featured in the Stargate saga for example. That doesn’t mean that the 3D printing tech itself will not be ready for the space age, as indicated by a great deal of recent news. Several of these projects – many of them still not concretized – have to do with weight saving and convenience due to, for example, carrying fewer end products as cargo on space missions and more possibilities for the crew to react to different scenarios high up among the stars. That’s not to say that 3D printing couldn’t also be used for unmanned objects, as the recent collaboration between the Air Force Research Laboratory and Tethers Unlimited – the tech company dedicated to the advancement of expeditions on ground, below the surface and in space as well – proves.
The intent of the partnership is to create innovative light and inexpensive 3D printing solutions for new radiation shielding applications – for satellites. Tethers will apply its own technology to the highly important orbital space transmitters, which is highly capable of absorbing the space radiation via its special structure that has an “internal layered composition of polymers and metals” – a patent-pending process of the company called the Versatile Structural Radiation Shielding or VSRS. Because 3D printing is part of the Yes we can -crowd, the special parts can be made with minimal mass compared with traditional manufacturing methods.
The Chief Technologist – not a bad pair of words on a business card – of Tethers Unlimited, Nestor Voronka, explains how 3D printing is definitely the way of the future – even on the worlds above the sky: “The desire to lower the cost and improve the performance of spacecraft systems is driving many satellite
developers to consider commercial, off-the-shelf, or ‘COTS’ electronics, but these components are more susceptible to radiation than the very expensive hardened components that are traditionally used. The VSRS technology integrates radiation shielding into the spacecraft structures so we can enable those COTS components to operate reliably while maintaining their low-cost and low-mass advantages,” he explained.
This project might be concentrated on building better shielding for satellites, but in the long run the same tech might be seen in the manned space ships as well. For the company, the future might also hold even more ambitious space-related 3D printed applications, as it’s working closely under NASA (and with its funding) looking for solutions to build parts of the spacecrafts – in space: “We hope to leverage the power of additive manufacturing to enable a radical change in the way a spacecraft is built, dramatically reducing costs and increasing performance for many missions,” the CEO and Chief Scientist of Tethers Unlimited, Dr. Rob Hoyt, has stated.