Planetary Resources reveals out-of-this world 3D printing

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This sculpture was printed using materials from a meteorite(Credit: Planetary Resources)

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If one is going to get into the asteroid mining business, one needs to prove that you can do something with what's brought back. That seems to be the thinking behind Planetary Resources' presentation today at CES in Las Vegas, where the asteroid mining company unveiled the first object 3D printed using extraterrestrial materials.

Made in collaboration with 3D Systems, the nickel-iron sculpture represents a stylized, geometric spacecraft, such as might be used for asteroid mining or prospecting. Planetary Resources says it is representative of what could be printed in a weightless environment.

The sculpture was created using a fragment of a prehistoric meteorite that was pulverized and fed into a 3D Systems ProX DMP 320 3D metal printer. The powder consisting of nickel-iron with traces of cobalt similar to refinery-grade steel was spread out by the printer in thin layers and a laser beam guided by a 3D file fused the powder layer by layer into solid metal. When completed, the excess powder was removed to reveal the finished product.

According to Planetary Resources, this is the first time that an object has been printed using extraterrestrial raw materials. In this case, it was from a meteorite from Campo del Cielo, which is situated about 1,000 km (620 mi) northwest of Buenos Aires in Argentina. This is a field of over 26 craters formed by the impact between 4,200 and 4,700 years ago of a nickel-iron meteor weighing over 100 tonnes (110 tons). The largest single fragment recovered weighs 37 tonnes (41 tons) and is the second largest meteorite piece found on Earth.

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