CHINA TOPIX

Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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China Unveils First Space-Based 3D Printer

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(Photo : Businessweek) Scientists in China have produced a 3D printing machine, the first of its kind in the country, which astronauts will use while on space missions to build parts and equipment.

Scientists in China have produced a 3D printing machine, the first of its kind in the country, which astronauts will use while on space missions, according to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASTC).

The machine will be able to print various kinds of parts and equipment needed on space missions, such as optical lens brackets, complicated components used in nuclear power testing equipment, impellers used in aircraft research, and special-shaped gears used in automobile engines, Wang Lianfeng, a senior engineer with CASTC Shanghai's research arm told state news agency Xinhua.

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The machine, which looks like a gray cabinet, is able to construct items out of stainless steel, titanium alloy and nickel-based superalloy. It also uses both long-wave fiber and short-wave carbon dioxide lasers, and can produce items smaller than 250 millimeters.

"The products made will have to be tested thoroughly, due to the strict quality requirements of aerospace products," said Wang.

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is the processes in which three-dimensional objects are made through the layering of material. It is advancing rapidly and is increasingly used for industrial purposes.

Although NASA has already implemented a 3D printer on the International Space Station, China's says its printing machine will be capable of creating metal parts with selective laser melting (SLM) technology on their spacecraft, according to 3D Print.com.

SLM machines are used mainly for aerospace and automotive parts and utilize long-wave fiber and short-wave carbon dioxide lasers to build parts from materials like titanium alloys, stainless steel and nickel.

Liang Feng, a senior engineer with CASTC in Shanghai, told 3D Print.com that the device can output 8 sq cm of parts per hour, and adds that patent applications for the new device are already filed. 

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