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China Validates 3D Printing Technology For The First Time In Space

May 09, 2020


The space 3D printing system developed by the China Space Technology Research Institute 529 Factory was tested on the ground. Photo courtesy of China Academy of Space Technology

A "composite space 3D printer" independently developed by China and its two samples printed on orbit successfully returned to the Dongfeng landing site with the return cabin of China's new-generation manned spacecraft test ship.

This is China's first orbital 3D printing test and the world's first space-based 3D printing of continuous carbon fiber reinforced composite materials.

At 1:58 on May 7, this set of space 3D printing system developed by the China Institute of Space Technology 529 factory completed the scheduled task. The images downloaded by the spacecraft showed that the two samples were printed successfully and clearly distinguishable. The researchers will also conduct further performance testing and comprehensive evaluation of the returned printers and samples.


Samples printed on orbit by the space 3D printing system.

According to reports, carbon fiber has always been a lightweight and high-strength material widely used in aerospace. Continuous carbon fiber has significant significance for the performance improvement of composite materials. The two samples of this 3D printing have realized the continuous filament of carbon fiber, which has laid an important technical foundation for the future application of 3D printing of composite materials.

China Academy of Space Technology pointed out that this printing system also realizes unattended and automatic control of all processes.


Samples printed on orbit by the space 3D printing system.

The existing microgravity 3D printing research at home and abroad has human participation, human control, human management, human intervention when equipment startup, heating, printing and other links work abnormally. The space experiment is unattended. The system itself completes all scheduled tasks. Its development experience in structural mechanisms, motion control, power supply lighting, and camera monitoring will provide important technical references for subsequent space 3D printing tasks.

At the same time, this experiment also achieved a comprehensive verification of the mechanism of 3D printing by the microgravity environment.


The space 3D printing system developed by the China Space Technology Research Institute 529 Factory was tested on the ground.

Space 3D printing is different from ground-based 3D printing. The most important difference comes from the impact of the microgravity environment on the printing process. For this reason, weightless aircraft are used for parabolic flight tests at home and abroad, but a parabolic cycle can only provide a microgravity environment of about 20 seconds.

The China Academy of Space Technology pointed out that after the spacecraft enters the predetermined orbit, it can provide a long-term microgravity stable environment. It can not only investigate the material forming process, but also verify the reliability of the printing system structural mechanism, the accuracy of movement, and the forming the quality of.

The 3D printed sample returned with the return cabin can visually show the influence of microgravity on materials, structural mechanisms, control, molding, etc., and its experience and achievements are more suitable for promotion to the outside cabin and large-scale on-rail construction.

In addition, the new generation of manned spacecraft test ship is also equipped with the world's first cubic star deployer based on metal 3D printing technology.


The Cubic Star Deployer developed by Xingzhong Space (Beijing) Technology Co., Ltd. conducts ground acceleration tests. star

The deployer was developed by the Chinese commercial aerospace company Xingzhong Space (Beijing) Technology Co., Ltd. The deployer connects the Cubic Star with the vehicle. Whether the deployer can ensure vibration reduction during the launch, accurately release and output the separation signal to confirm the separation time is the key to determine the success or failure of the Cubic Star launch.

This flight verified the structural strength, material performance and space environment adaptability of the new 3D printed deployer. "The deployer manufactured by 3D printing is half the weight of traditional mechanical processing products, and the processing cycle has been shortened from the past few months to one week, leading the traditional processing methods. The application prospects of 3D printing technology in the aerospace field will become more and more attractive People. "Said Bai Ruixue, chief operating officer of Xingzhong Space.