BAM, Clausthal University of Technology (CUT) and the Institute of Composite Structures and Adaptive Systems of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) successfully tested their innovative 3D printing process for the aerospace industry during DLR’s 31st parabolic flight campaign.
The team includes Dr.-Ing. Thomas Mühler from CUT; Marc Sparenberg from the DLR Institute of Composte Structures and Adaptive Systems and the BAM scientists Gunther Mohr from the Welding Technologie division as well as Jörg Lüchtenborg, Dr. Andrea Zocca und Prof. Dr. Jens Günster from the Ceramic Processing and Biomaterials division.
The goal of the experiments was to show that astronauts could make their own tools or spare parts – in this case, a small spanner – during space missions using 3D printing technology. This time, for the first time, the team used metallic powders in zero gravity.
“We are using a brand new layering technology. But this technology first needs to prove itself and show that it can be used for the application of powder layers under zero gravity conditions. For the first time, we used metallic materials in our tests and were able to print a usable component. We would took home a small spanner from the campaign.”
Prof. Dr. Jens Günster, head of the Ceramic Processing and Biomaterials division and professor in high-performance ceramics at CUT.
MRO-Network reported that to enable the process to work in space, the research group has developed a method that enables processing of metallic powders under a protective gas atmosphere. A process gas–in this case nitrogen–is drawn through the powder layers to stabilize the powder bed in the absence of gravity.
Parabolic flights are used for scientific tests in microgravity and for testing space techniques. A DLR parabolic flight campaign usually consists of three flight days, each with four flight hours and 31 parabolas being flown in each. In parabolic flights, an aircraft rises steeply from the horizontal flight, throttles the thrust of the turbines and flies a parabola where weightlessness prevails for about 22 seconds. In total, approximately 35 minutes of weightlessness are available in a flight campaign – alternating with normal and double acceleration due to gravity, which researchers can use for their tests. Up to 40 scientists can participate in a flight, where generally 12 to 13 on-board experiments take place.