17 May 2016 An aerial 3D printing test mission
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Abstract
This paper provides an overview of an aerial 3D printing technology, its development and its testing. This technology is potentially useful in its own right. In addition, this work advances the development of a related in-space 3D printing technology. A series of aerial 3D printing test missions, used to test the aerial printing technology, are discussed. Through completing these test missions, the design for an in-space 3D printer may be advanced. The current design for the in-space 3D printer involves focusing thermal energy to heat an extrusion head and allow for the extrusion of molten print material. Plastics can be used as well as composites including metal, allowing for the extrusion of conductive material. A variety of experiments will be used to test this initial 3D printer design. High altitude balloons will be used to test the effects of microgravity on 3D printing, as well as parabolic flight tests. Zero pressure balloons can be used to test the effect of long 3D printing missions subjected to low temperatures. Vacuum chambers will be used to test 3D printing in a vacuum environment. The results will be used to adapt a current prototype of an in-space 3D printer. Then, a small scale prototype can be sent into low-Earth orbit as a 3-U cube satellite. With the ability to 3D print in space demonstrated, future missions can launch production hardware through which the sustainability and durability of structures in space will be greatly improved.
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Michael Hirsch, Michael Hirsch, Thomas McGuire, Thomas McGuire, Michael Parsons, Michael Parsons, Skye Leake, Skye Leake, Jeremy Straub, Jeremy Straub, "An aerial 3D printing test mission", Proc. SPIE 9828, Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR) Systems and Applications XIII, 982806 (17 May 2016); doi: 10.1117/12.2223469; https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2223469
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