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China successfully completed the first space 3D printing. What did it print on the spacecraft?

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Update time : 2020-05-08 10:44:29
At 18:00 on May 5, 2020, the Long March 5B was equipped with a new-generation manned spaceship test ship and a flexible inflatable cargo return cabin test cabin.
 
This time, a "3D printer" was also installed on the new-generation manned spacecraft test ship. This is China's first space 3D printing experiment and the first international 3D printing experiment of continuous fiber-reinforced composite materials in space. So what did it print on the spaceship?
 
This time, a "composite space 3D printing system" independently developed by China was carried on the test ship. The researchers installed this "3D printer" in the return cabin of the test ship. During the flight, the system independently completed continuous fiber Enhanced sample printing of composite materials, and verified the scientific experimental goals of 3D printing of composite materials in a microgravity environment.
 
It is understood that continuous fiber-reinforced composite materials are currently the main materials for spacecraft structures at home and abroad, with low density and high strength. Research on 3D printing technology of composite materials space is carried out. For the long-term operation of the space station in the future, the development of space super-large structure on-orbit manufacturing , Of great significance.
 
Continuous fiber-reinforced composite materials are currently the main materials of spacecraft structures at home and abroad, with low density and high strength. Carrying out research on composite material space 3D printing technology is of great significance for the future long-term operation of the space station and the development of on-orbit manufacturing of ultra-large space structures. .
 
The stereolithography 3D printing technology of the research team of the Space Application Center of the Chinese Academy of Sciences performs on-orbit manufacturing equipment for metal / ceramic composite materials with micron-level precision
 
Space 3D printing research of the Space Application Center of the Chinese Academy of Sciences According to reports, the Long March 5B rocket successfully put China's new-generation manned spacecraft test ship into a predetermined orbit, which can provide a good research opportunity for China's space 3D printing. In order to further improve the manufacturing accuracy and expand the spectrum of materials that can be used in space manufacturing, the "On-orbit Fine Forming Experimental Device" developed by the research team of the Space Application Center of the Chinese Academy of Sciences will innovate the micron level of metal / ceramic composite materials using stereolithography 3D printing Precision on-track manufacturing. Space weightlessness environment is one of the main challenges faced by stereolithography technology. Ordinary printing paste cannot maintain a stable shape under weightlessness conditions, and wall climbing will cause liquid level fluctuations to affect printing; through weightless aircraft at home and abroad, several 100 times of experiments under microgravity environment, the rheological behavior and internal mechanism of the slurry under weightlessness were analyzed, and the slurry was optimized by chemical and physical methods to change it from liquid to soft substance, which is unique to soft substances. Its yield stress resists deformation under weightless conditions, inhibits wall climbing, and it can restore good fluidity under the action of higher shear forces, ensuring smooth 3D printing.
 
In 2018, the Key Laboratory of Space Manufacturing Technology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences tested 3D printing under microgravity. It is understood that the CAS Key Laboratory of Space Manufacturing Technology (SMT) was established at the end of 2017. The technology center is a scientific research entity with "space manufacturing technology" as the research topic. As early as June 13, 2018, researchers in the Key Laboratory of Space Manufacturing Technology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (relying on the space application center) in Dubendorf, Switzerland, successfully completed the first international stereolithography of ceramic materials in a microgravity environment using European weightless aircraft Forming technology test and casting technology test under microgravity environment of metal material based on ceramic mold, obtained many intact manufacturing samples and rich experimental data.
 

△ Light-cured 3D printed ceramic samples under microgravity
 
The role and advantages of space 3D printing In general, when a certain tool or component is missing in the International Space Station, astronauts have to spend weeks or even months waiting for supplies to be sent from the ground. With a space 3D printer, technicians set up manufacturing procedures (that is, design model files) on the earth and send them to the International Space Station by email. The entire process takes less than a week; the actual printing time is only about 4 hour. In addition to the cost of time, the transportation costs saved by space 3D printing are also considerable. The system of a space station, base or complex spacecraft consists of many parts. Although it strives for reliability during construction, it still faces problems such as parts damage and system upgrades. If you carry a large number of prefabricated parts into space, it will greatly increase the high launch cost. If space 3D printing technology is used, only raw materials and light-weight printers need to be brought into space to manufacture the required parts on the spot, minimize the launch weight and improve work efficiency. In the future, when humans can mine raw materials from the surface of other planets, they can also establish "parts factories" in space, further reducing the launch weight of spacecraft and saving space.
 
The space 3D printer on the NASA International Space Station in the United States uses FDM melt extrusion. The polymer wire is melted into a liquid state by heating the nozzle and then extruded from the nozzle by mechanical force. Layer by layer. Image source NASA In 2014, the world's first space 3D printer developed by NASA arrived at the International Space Station, unveiling the prelude to human "space manufacturing". The operating environment of 3D printing technology in space is very different from that of the earth, and the technical difficulty is also different. On the earth, relying on gravity, the heated plastic, metal or other materials extruded by the 3D printer can be naturally deposited, printing three-dimensional objects layer by layer. Under zero gravity in space, it is necessary to use a centrifuge that rotates at a given rate to ensure that the material is deposited in place, or modify the 3D printing process to make the device run smoothly. However, the original 3D printing technology based on the earth is easier to adapt to the moon and Mars with microgravity environment.
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