3D Printing in Space
Green Plastic, which is made from sugarcane, is now being used to fabricate parts in space, thanks to a partnership between Braskem, the largest thermoplastic resin producer in the Americas, and U.S.-based Made In Space, developer of zero gravity 3D printers and an official supplier to NASA. The technology allows astronauts to fabricate tools and spare parts in space using the bio-based resin, which effectively increases the autonomy of space missions.
The first part made from the raw material outside of Earth was a pipe connector for a vegetable irrigation system, which was fabricated by the Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF), the first commercial 3D printer permanently allocated in space. The equipment, which will fabricate various types of parts using I'm greenTM plastic, is located on the International Space Station (ISS) and was developed by Made In Space with the support of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS).
For over a year, Braskem's Innovation & Technology team has been working with Made In Space to develop a Green Plastic solution especially for 3D printing in zero gravity. The partnership will enable astronauts to receive by e-mail digital designs of the parts and then print them, which means dramatic savings in terms of time and costs. "Through this partnership, we combined one of the greatest innovations in polymers, Green Plastic, with advanced space technology to print 3D objects in zero gravity. Putting a renewable polymer in space for printing applications represents an important milestone in our history," said Patrick Teyssonneyre, director of Innovation & Technology at Braskem.
Polyethylene made from sugarcane was the material chosen for the project because of its combination of properties, such as flexibility, chemical resistance and recyclability, and also because it is made from a renewable resource. There are great expectations surrounding the project's benefits, since 3D printing in space was defined by NASA as one of the advances essential for a future mission to Mars. "The ability to print parts and tools in 3D on demand increases the reliability and safety of space missions. This partnership with Braskem is fundamental for diversifying the raw materials used by the AMF and for making this technology more robust and versatile," said Andrew Rush, CEO of Made In Space.
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