Space

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

This sculpture was printed using materials from a meteorite
This sculpture was printed using materials from a meteorite
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This sculpture was printed using materials from a meteorite
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This sculpture was printed using materials from a meteorite
The sculpture is composed of iron, nickel, and cobalt
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The sculpture is composed of iron, nickel, and cobalt

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.

The sculpture is composed of iron, nickel, and cobalt
The sculpture is composed of iron, nickel, and cobalt

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.

Source: Planetary Resources

4 comments
zr2s10
I think this is fairly interesting, but how does it work in zero gravity? If you're laying out powder to melt, what keeps it from floating away? I thought I saw something about NASA testing 3D printing on the ISS, but it was plastic pieces, so most likely nozzle extruded to a base with a vacuum chuck or some other attachment point. This wouldn't be possible with laser sintering of powder beds
Douglas Bennett Rogers
The asteroid mining wouldn't involve laser printing. Gravity could be produced by rotation.
Reason
Rather than bringing it back, the importance of this sort of technology would be to robotically build things in situ from local materials in advance of a manned mission to (say) Mars. This would considerably lighten the load of what such a mission would have to carry. The Mars First proposal suggests sending an advance unmanned craft to produce fuel and oxygen from local materials (similarly lightening the load for a manned mission) 3D printing capability would be another huge plus for this plan.
inchiki
What we really need is a 3d printer that can print another 3d printer.