The New Space Race
As we learned in the last blog post, engineers are now able to 3D print metal parts. When plastic is used for 3D printing, the material is heated to a hot enough temperature in which it becomes a liquid. However, when it comes to printing with metal, loose metal powder is laid in layers. Between each layer being placed, a laser is pointed onto the metal powder. The laser traces the precise shape, melting and binding the metal in the process. This is repeated for each layer until the solid metal shape is complete. The printers still utilize the additive process that builds up 3D printed pieces, layer by layer, but metal is the material of choice.
In terms of space, this new process could be used to make repairs on the International Space Station, rather than sending equipment by rocket. This would reduce the time taken to receive replacement parts and eliminate the expenses of flying the parts from Earth to the space station.
The sky for 3D printing is quite literally limitless.