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China tests 3D printing in space for first time

News International-French

11 May 2020

China has conducted its first 3D printing experiment in space in a newly launched spacecraft, according to the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).

China tests 3D printing in space for first time

China tests 3D printing in space for first time

The academy said on its WeChat account that the experiment was done by a 3D printer, developed and built by its Beijing Spacecrafts Manufacturing Factory, inside the prototype of China's new-generation manned spacecraft.

The printer, named the Space-Based Composite Material 3D Printing System, uses carbon fiber-reinforced composites to autonomously print objects. It is installed in the reentry module of the experimental spaceship and will be brought back to earth once the module returns.

The academy said the printer features advanced technologies in material modeling, precision control and automation. It explained that once the space-based 3D printing technology becomes operationally ready, it can extensively benefit space programs as astronauts can use it to manufacture a lot of things they currently need to obtain from resupply flights by cargo spacecraft.

Video clips broadcast on China Central Television showed that the printer has printed a flat section of a honeycomb-shaped structure as well as an emblem of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, the parent company of the China Academy of Space Technology, information website China.org.cn reports.

This test can not only examine the material forming process, but also test the reliability, movement accuracy and material quality of the printing system, the CAST said.

The returned samples can directly show the influence of microgravity on materials, structural mechanism, movement control and shape forming, with the experience more suitable to be applied in extra-vehicular activities and in-orbit construction of large structures, it said.