S.P. Korolev RSC Energia (forms part of the State Corporation Roscosmos) jointly with Tomsk Polytechnic University and Tomsk State University have developed a 3D printer to be operated on the International Space Station (ISS).
Using a thermoplastic polymer printer, samples and parts being used in large quantities aboard the station will be printed by a layerwise stacking of a molten polymeric fibre (filament).
Ivan Kuzmenko, Associate Professor of the Department of Radiophysics at Tomsk State University said: “This technology will allow cosmonauts to produce, for example, caps for electrical connectors of various variety, research blades, wrenches and other tools, fasteners (nuts, bolts, etc.) required for work on the ISS.
The resulting 3D printing samples will be returned to the ground to study mechanical characteristics of the items manufactured using additive technologies (layerwise growth and synthesis of objects). This will enable to study comprehensively the microgravity effect on 3D printing.
The crew of the ISS-67 Expedition, Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Artemiev, Denis Matveev and Sergei Korsakov will be the first to operate the 3D printer. The 3D printer is planned to be delivered to the ISS Russian Segment aboard Progress MS-20 spacecraft in June this year. Over the course of time, the device can become part of the station nominal hardware.
Development testing of additive technologies on the station will give the go-ahead for our country’s cosmonautics to use 3D printing in the future. For example, in lunar expeditions, cosmonauts will no longer depend on the delivery of necessary assemblies and structures on transportation spacecraft from the Earth, but will be able to print them directly in space, which will make it possible to move to a new level of performing various kinds of tasks.