Historic First: Metal 3D Printing Achieved in Space by ESA

By: | June 8th, 2024

Image by ESA

Breakthrough in Space Manufacturing

In a breakthrough moment for space exploration, the European Space Agency (ESA) has successfully completed the world’s first-ever metal 3D printing on the International Space Station (ISS). This marks a significant leap forward in in-orbit manufacturing capabilities, paving the way for future space missions as well as potential lunar or Martian bases.

Innovative Technology by Airbus

The printing, conducted on Thursday, May 30, successfully produced a small S-shaped curve using liquefied stainless steel. ESA stated that this test demonstrates the printer’s capability to soon begin producing functional materials.

This new metal 3D printer, developed by Airbus, opens doors for the on-demand creation of metal tools and parts in space. The successful printing of a test structure demonstrates the functionality of the technology in microgravity.

Launch and Deployment

On January 30 of this year, a metal 3D printer was sent to the ISS as part of the Cygnus NG-20 mission, launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. This printer, weighing approximately 180 kg (396 lbs), marks a significant advancement in space technology.

Challenges of Metal 3D Printing

While plastic-based 3D printers are already in use on the ISS, metal 3D printing presents unique challenges. The process requires lasers to heat metals to extremely high temperatures until they liquefy. To address safety concerns, the metal 3D printer on the ISS is housed in a fully sealed box to contain any excess heat or fumes.

Impact on Future Missions

This achievement is a major milestone for space exploration, also enabling on-site repairs and the construction of complex structures. The ability to 3D print metal in space will reduce dependence on pre-manufactured parts as well as enable a new era of space-based manufacturing.


Nidhi Goyal

Nidhi is a gold medalist Post Graduate in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.

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