Advanced modeling software developed by Cornell University has been successfully deployed and tested on the International Space Station (ISS).
In an experiment with NASA, the ISS US National Laboratory, and HP, Cornell’s modeling software was integrated with HP’s Spaceborne Computer-2 to simulate how 3D printing processes work in the space for a desired component and predict the quality of parts.
“Previously, this was computationally infeasible due to discrepancies in time and space scales and high thermal gradients,” said Terrence Moran, a PhD student at Cornell who designed the software. “So we developed the software with a physics-based model, made it portable and uploaded it to the ISS.
“It was successfully executed and the results were consistent with the results we had obtained during our research. The timing and everything was the same.
AM tests in space
The experiment was one of many conducted over the past year to demonstrate the functionality of HP’s Spaceborne Computer-2, which was installed on the ISS in February last year as the first commercial edge computing system with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities.
The Spaceborne Computer-2 is designed to enable real-time processing of massive amounts of data in space and address the long latency and latency issues associated with relaying data back to Earth. So far, experiments on the machine have ranged from medical imaging processing to DNA sequencing, and additive manufacturing is also a key candidate for testing, Moran said.
According to him, 3D printing is “absolutely essential for what NASA wants to do with deep space exploration and going to Mars”, and this has been supported by several additive manufacturing related projects undertaken by NASA. these last years.
For example, NASA has entered into partnerships with Launcher and VELO3D to explore the fabrication of 3D-printed rocket engines, and has previously worked with researchers at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) to develop propulsion. of solar powered rocket. technology of its own.
3D printing has also been used to design and test elements for an AI-powered lunar rover that could be deployed during NASA’s return mission to the Moon, and in the production of a habitat that recreates with precision the conditions that future astronauts will experience on Mars. Last year, NASA launched a new series of science experiments on the ISS, one of which was a study by space systems specialist Redwire to determine the feasibility of 3D printing regolith for construction at the request for lunar structures.
More recently, NASA selected California-based aerospace company Rocket Lab to provide launch services for its upcoming VADR missions. The firm’s Electron and Neutron launchers are powered by its 3D-printed Rutherford engine, which has already been printed more than 100 times.
Predict 3D printed structures in space
For the latest experiment conducted on the Spaceborne Computer-2, Cornell, NASA, the ISS US National Lab and HP have partnered to better understand and predict the deformation and failure of 3D printed structures in space.
Within the Cornell Fracture Group led by Cornell Professor Derek Warner, Moran has developed specialized modeling software capable of simulating how 3D printing processes will unfold for specific components and whether the result will be high or low quality.
Additive manufacturing in space can be challenging and unpredictable due to the lack of gravity, differences in time and space scales, and drastic temperature changes. Moran describes his modeling software as a “form of virtual printing” that will save time, material and digital bandwidth during 3D print builds when combined with the Spaceborne Computer-2.
On January 1, the partners conducted an experiment with the modeling software and the Spaceborne Computer-2 to simulate the process of 3D printing a desired component and predict the quality of the final structure. The modeling software proved effective, providing results consistent with results seen in Moran’s earlier research.
While the software has significant advantages for deep space engineering projects involving 3D printing, it could also be an asset on Earth.
“One of the attractions of 3D printing is that you can manufacture locally,” Warner said. “So the interesting thing about that is that while space may be the most extreme environment, for the military or on oil rigs or other places, it will also be necessary to do the same thing. This demonstrates that it is possible.
Space as a test arena
The ISS has hosted many projects and experiments to explore the benefits of 3D printing in space. Microgravity bioprinting is an area that has received a lot of attention, especially 3D printing of living tissue in space. Companies like CELLINK, nScrypt, and Redwire’s Made in Space all have bioprinters on the ISS performing various 3D printing-based experiments that could provide a host of benefits for medicine on Earth.
In addition to bio-printing, ceramics specialist CeramTec produced a new generation of ceramic sample containers for the ISS in July last year, as part of a project with Airbus Defense and Space and the European Space Agency. The containers will be used to facilitate precision measurements of certain thermophysical properties of metals, alloys and semiconductors not possible on Earth.
Meanwhile, Redwire has unveiled plans to deploy 3D printing aboard the upcoming “Orbital Reef” commercial space station, which will feature state-of-the-art research facilities when it launches into low Earth orbit (LEO) d ‘by 2026. The company aims to contribute to the space station’s microgravity R&D and manufacturing activities through technologies from its Made in Space subsidiary, as well as the station’s payload operations and deployable structures.
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Featured image shows the International Space Station. Photo via NASA.