ESA Seeks To AMAZE By Printing Metal In Space
October 17, 2013

ESA Seeks To AMAZE By Printing Metal In Space

Michael Harper for – Your Universe Online

The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced they’ll be working together with the European Commission to move the 3D printing industry forward through a project they’re calling “AMAZE.” The project, an acronym for “Additive Manufacturing Aiming Towards Zero Waste & Efficient Production of High-Tech Metal Products,” aims to put the first 3D printer in the International Space Station. Once installed, the AMAZE printer will allow astronauts to print tools and other parts they may need while still in space. There are 28 industrial partners that will be joining the ESA and European Commission for project AMAZE, including factories that are applying layered metal printing techniques.

“We want to build the best quality metal products ever made,” said  David Jarvis, ESA’s Head of New Materials and Energy Research at a press conference announcing the news.

Though still in its early days, 3D printing is seen as the next modern revolution. Early adopters have used this technology to print guns, tools, even missing body parts, each of which were designed first on a computer then brought to life on a small platform. The item being printed is the result of many layers of extruded material, most often some type of plastic. Project AMAZE looks to print space-ready objects out of metal, which means they first have to create a reliable way to melt the metal down and run it through the extruder so it can be layered onto the platform.

“We are focusing on serious engineering components made of very high-tech alloys. We are using lasers, electron beams and even plasma to melt them,” said Jarvis. Some of the metals being used by the AMAZE project first must be melted down at temperatures above 3,500° Celsius.

In addition to learning how different metals will behave when pushed through the printer, the teams behind AMAZE are also taking the opportunity to develop new elements that could also be used to build strong, yet lightweight, components ready for space travel. One of the biggest goals of the new project is to create a system wherein objects are created with zero waste. This means none of the metal would be burned off in the printing process. Every bit of metal fed through the machine will wind up in the finished product.

There are now factories in Germany, Italy, Norway and the UK that are testing materials and refining the entire process to bring the AMAZE printer to life. This new technology could be rather helpful for the ESA and astronauts on the International Space Station. Calling 3D printing a  “revolutionary process that is crying out to be standardized for industry,” Jarvis says he hopes to one day print new metal parts and tools in just 24 hours. To do this, the process needs to be finely honed and repeatable every time.

“We need high quality, we need it to be repeatable, and we need a supply chain. AMAZE connects all the key players within Europe and develops that supply chain,” said Jon Meyer, the additive layer manufacturing research ten leader at partner EADS Innovation Works.

The ESA might be the first to deliver a 3D Printer capable of handling metal to the space station, but NASA last month said they wanted to install a regular 3D printer by next fall.