Cornell University researchers revealed that their modelling software will aid in successful 3D printing on space station. This software has been successfully tested aboard the international space station as part of a collaboration between Cornell, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), NASA and the ISS U.S. National Laboratory. The modelling software was created in the lab of Derek Warner, professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering.
Stating the importance of the research, Derek Warner explained, “Let’s say you’re in space and you need a part. If you just were to draw the part or upload a CAD file to your 3D printer and press print, it probably won’t work, just because 3D printing isn’t at that level of maturity. You would need to adjust the printing process and the parameters, so it will come out successful and you won’t waste your material.”
3D Printing on Space Station
This experiment, which took place on January 1, was part of a larger effort to demonstrate the functionality of the HPE Spaceborne Computer-2, which will be launched into space in February 2021 and installed on the space station as the first commercial, cutting-edge edge computing system with artificial intelligence capabilities. The new edge computer allows for real-time processing of massive amounts of data in space, eliminating the long latency and waiting associated with relaying data back and forth to Earth.
For the past year, astronauts have been conducting a variety of data-intensive experiments on Spaceborne Computer-2, ranging from medical imaging processing to DNA sequencing. According to doctoral student Terrence Moran, who designed the Cornell software, additive manufacturing was a prime candidate for testing because it is “absolutely critical to the things NASA wants to do with deep space exploration and going to Mars.”
Even for experts with decades of experience with the technology, 3D printing can be a fickle process full of trial and error, even on solid terrestrial ground. These issues are exacerbated by the harsh environment of space. After all, powder bed fusion is the most common type of 3D printing, in which powder is layered on a substrate and bonded or melted, which requires gravity. However, there are frequent hiccups in the process itself and 3D printing on space station becomes difficult.
Cornell Fracture Group
The Cornell Fracture Group conducts scientific and engineering research to better understand and predict structural deformation and failure. The group’s primary scientific goal is to illuminate and model the underlying physical mechanisms that control structural material failure. This group is led by Derek Warner .
With support from this group and its expertise, Terrence Moran created modelling software that can simulate how the 3D printing process will unfold for a desired component and whether the outcome will be high or low quality.
Terrence Moran shared, “Previously, this was computationally infeasible due to discrepancies in time and spatial scales and high thermal gradients. So we developed the software with a physics-based model, made it portable, and uploaded it to the ISS. It was successfully run and the results were consistent with the results we’d done during our research. The timing and everything were the same.”
“One of the allures of 3D printing is that you can manufacture locally. So the neat thing about this is that, while space might be the most extreme environment, for the military or on oil rigs or other places, there’s also going to be a need for doing the same thing. This demonstrates that it’s possible.”Derek Warner, Professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering, Cornell University
In essence, the modelling is a type of virtual printing that promises to save time, material, and digital bandwidth when combined with Spaceborne Computer-2. Not only will the software be useful for deep space engineering, but it could also be useful much closer to home.
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