Additive Manufacturing under Martian Gravity
Together with the Clausthal University of Technology, the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM) is researching the possibility of using additive manufacturing to produce components, spare parts or tools in weightlessness.
Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, offers a wide range of possibilities for producing components from liquid, powder or filamentary starting materials. Powder bed processes (selective laser sintering) are among the most widely used and already the most developed industrial processes. In principle, metals, plastics and ceramics, but also composite materials are available as powders. All in all, additive manufacturing can be used to produce a large number of components or tools “ready to use” very flexibly and quickly, but above all directly at the respective location. Therefore, the technology also has great potential in space travel: for example, in space stations in Earth orbit or for future moon or Mars missions.
The challenge, however, is to carry out powder-based additive manufacturing independently of gravitational forces. A team from BAM and TU Clausthal already developed an innovative process for this in 2017: In order to be able to process the dry powder, a continuous gas flow is established through the powder bed. This creates a flow field that attracts the particles of the powder – independently of gravity – towards the building platform. In order to be able to test this process under real conditions, BAM regularly takes part in parabolic flights of the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and the European Space Agency (ESA), where different gravitational conditions are simulated.
3D printing with moon dust
During this year’s parabolic flight experiments, the team tested the developed devices and processes under gravitational conditions such as those found on the moon and Mars. In addition to experiments with metallic powder, 3D printing with simulated lunar dust (lunar regolith simulant) was also tested for the first time. “We were able to print small spanners from metallic powder. Also we used lunar regolith simulant under lunar and Martian gravitational conditions to create an object resembling the famous footprint Neil Armstrong left on the moon in 1969,” explains Prof. Dr Jens Günster, expert for additive manufacturing processes at BAM and Chair of Advanced Ceramics at TU Clausthal.