Optics manufacturer Manx Precision Optics (MPO) and the International Space University (ISU) are collaborating on a project to explore the potential of 3D printing optical components ‘on the spot’ in harsh environments such as space.
3D printing is a powerful tool to produce in situ parts rapidly, eliminating probable long transport times and delays – this is particularly the case for small but essential (spare) parts.
In November 2014, a printer on the International Space Station manufactured the first 3D printed object in space. According to NASA, the capability of being able to produce components in space will pave the way for future long-term space expeditions, allowing astronauts to be less reliant on supply missions from Earth.
The space-printed parts are currently being tested by scientists back on earth in order to verify that the 3D printing process works the same in microgravity as it does on Earth.
The project between Manx Precision Optics, located on the Isle of Man, UK and the International Space University will work to validate the concept of producing essential optical components on the spot. After concept validation, the market potential of the specific application will be further jointly examined and developed. It is anticipated that the project could generate the growth of new commercial sectors such as traffic and oil and gas, due to the capability to produce parts in demanding environments.
Founded in 1987 in Massachusetts, US, and now headquartered in Strasbourg, France the International Space University is supported by major space agencies and aerospace organisations from around the world. ISU and the Isle of Man have a long-standing relationship, which is also evident in the International Institute of Space Commerce (IISC), a facility located on the Island dedicated to the study of the business, economics, and commerce of space.
‘The calibre and motivation of ISU students and academic staff is second to none and pooling our resources to work on this exciting project is a fantastic opportunity to push forward the current boundaries of technology,’ said Dr Kessler, CEO of MPO and an alumni of ISU.
Professor Peeters, president ISU and director of IISC, added: ‘We are delighted to work together with an ISU alumnus and strong IISC supporter. On board of the International Space Station, 3D printing has already shown its enormous potential in fabricating spare parts or other essential items, cutting down transport costs and delays.’