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Printing spare parts in zero gravity

Professor John Leif Jørgensen takes a close look at a metal object which will be printed on Earth as well as in space in a new project. Photo: Bax Lindhart

A metal 3D printer will be tested on the International Space Station (ISS) during the Huginn mission led by Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen. The printer, developed by Airbus for the European Space Agency (ESA), aims to produce spare parts in space, eliminating the need for long-distance transportation from Earth. The printer uses a nozzle to spout a stainless-steel wire, which is melted by a laser beam to create the desired object. By testing the printer on the ISS, Airbus will gain insights into necessary modifications for larger-scale spare part manufacturing in space.

During the mission, the astronauts will print a 5-cm tall structure, which will be compared to similar models printed on Earth. The absence of gravity in space minimizes certain physical effects, such as internal tension and material warping, providing researchers with valuable knowledge about how metals behave under different conditions. This understanding can lead to more precise manufacturing processes on Earth, reducing the margin of safety currently applied and optimizing the use of materials.

Two other DTU projects will also be involved in the Huginn mission. One project focuses on using virtual reality (VR) to enhance astronauts' mental well-being during space missions, while the second project aims to capture lightning activity using an improved camera system. The lightning data, combined with information from the Danish space climate observatory ASIM, will provide researchers with insights into the impact of lightning on greenhouse gas concentrations and Earth's climate, contributing to the improvement of climate models.

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