China has conducted its first 3D printing experiment in space on the newly launched spacecraft sent into orbit during the maiden voyage of the Long March 5B heavy-lift carrier rocket, according to the China Academy of Space Technology.
The Long March 5B Yaoyi carrier rocket successfully sent a new-generation manned spacecraft test ship into the scheduled orbit at the Wenchang Space Launch Site in Hainan. The rocket was equipped with a composites 3D printer official named “Space-based Composite Material 3D Printing System”.
During the flight, the system autonomously completed the sample printing of continuous fiber-reinforced composite materials, and verified the scientific experiment goal of 3D printing of composite materials in a microgravity environment. This is China’s first orbital 3D printing experiment and the world’s first space 3D printing of continuous carbon fiber-reinforced composite materials.
The China Academy of Space Technology confirmed on its WeChat account on Thursday that the experiment was carried out by the 3D printer, developed and built by its Beijing Spacecrafts Manufacturing Factory, inside the prototype of China’s new-generation manned spacecraft.
The printer uses carbon fiber-reinforced composites to autonomously print objects. It is installed in the re-entry module of the experimental spaceship and will be brought back to Earth once the module returns to the ground.
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 broadcasted on China Central Television showed that the printer had 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.
The prototype of China’s new-generation manned spacecraft was lifted into the low-Earth orbit by the maiden mission of China’s Long March 5B heavy-lift carrier rocket. The flight was intended to verify key technologies and equipment for the new-generation spaceship including the heat-resistance, control and recovery devices, and the test results will be used for further improvements, according to the China Manned Space Agency.