In the 21st century, everyone accepts space as the likely final destination of any given species, piece of technology or movie franchise. Understandably then, we hear a lot about the actual and potential uses of 3D printing in space. Lately, we’ve covered the International Space Station (ISS) receiving its firstEuropean-made 3D printer, which followed the first ever space-ready 3D printer sent over in 2014. Here on terra firma, 3D printing technology is being used by NASA and its various contractors to develop rocket engine components, while several other organizations are focusing their energies on the optimization of additive manufacturing techniques for use in the great unknown.
Breaking news from Enterprise in Space (EIS), an international project of the non-profit National Space Society, sees a rather different demographic getting involved in space-bound 3D printing, namely children. EIS has teamed up with Made in Space, an American-based company specializing in the engineering and manufacturing of 3D printers for use in microgravity, to implement 3D printed components in a spacecraft to be launched into Earth orbit. The NSS Enterprise, a unique educational spacecraft, will be the first 3D printed airframe in space, with a cargo containing further surprises. TheEnterprise will carry over 100 passive and active student experiments, developed by children of all ages, into space and back to Earth.
In February of this year, EIS held the Enterprise In Space Orbiter Design Contest, in which participants were encouraged to submit a design concept for the Enterprise. Production of the 3D printed winning design, created by video game artist Stanley Von Medvey, is currently underway. Made In Space and EIS, along with EIS partners SpaceWorks Enterprise Inc., Deep Space Industries, Terminal Velocity Aerospace and The Global Aerospace Corporation will work hand in hand to build the eight-foot-long, 1,000-pound satellite.
The first 3D printed airframe bound for space will boast a number of exciting features, such as the aforementioned space-focused projects from students and a cloud-based artificial intelligence platform called ‘Ali’. Ali will communicate with the participating students via a natural language interface, giving periodical reports regarding the mission and on-board experiments. Sci-fi fans will be relieved to know that Ali, whose name shares three suspect letters with “HAL”, will not be responsible for any human lives aboard the unmanned Enterprise.
“Ali will be the voice and mind of the NSS Enterprise, communicating with her virtual crew just as the computer aboard the Star Trek ships did, in natural language, through the student teams' own internet terminals,” said EIS Program Manager Alice Hoffman. “Through the EIS project, we hope to demonstrate that Ali can become a personal tutor and mentor to every student, allowing them to see the vision of a brighter future and providing them with the education to fully participate.”
All involved parties have expressed excitement about the collaboration, particularly regarding the unique opportunities afforded to participating students by the 3D printed satellite. “Made In Space is excited to be a part of this great effort to engage with students from across the world through real experiments that will be flown in space on the NSS Enterprise spacecraft,” said Made In Space Co-Founder and Chief Engineer Michael Snyder.
“The EIS team is thrilled to be partnering with Made In Space,” said Shawn Case, Enterprise In Space founder and chairman of the Board of Advisors. “It's a great fit, as we all work together to support and foster education. We share the same goal of enabling humanity’s future in space. As Carl Sagan once said, ‘Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works.’”
EIS has already secured $27.5 million in “in-kind” donations for the exciting project, but will require further public donations for the construction and launch of the 3D printed airframe. As a special incentive, contributors will become “virtual crew members” by having their names sent into space on a chip. Significant donations will be rewarded with branding rights for both the 3D printed spacecraft itself and its unique AI.
As the 3D printed spacecraft is built over the next few years, EIS will consider submitted student experiments, before choosing the best to be taken aboard the Enterprise. EIS expects to launch the 3D printed satellite by 2020.
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