Device Like ‘Star Trek’ Replicator Might Fly on Space Station
Space explorers have yet to get their hands on the replicator of “Star Trek” to create anything they might require. But NASA has developed a technology that could enable lunar colonists to carry out on-site manufacturing on the moon, or allow future astronauts to create critical spare parts during the long trip to Mars.
The method, called electron beam freeform fabrication (EBF3), uses an electron beam to melt metals and build objects layer by layer. Such an approach already promises to cut manufacturing costs for the aerospace industry, and could pioneer development of new materials. It has also thrilled astronauts on the International Space Station by dangling the possibility of designing new tools or objects, researchers said.
“They get up there, and all they have is time and imagination,” said Karen Taminger, the materials research engineer heading the project at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia.
Taminger’s project has undergone microgravity tests aboard NASA’s “vomit comet” aircraft. Now she hopes to get EBF3 scheduled for launch to the International Space Station, so that space trials can commence.
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