Steel, wax, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic, polylactic acid, polyamide (nylon), and glass filled polyamide are some of the materials used for 3D printing. Now we can add asteroid metals to the list. Asteroid mining company Planetary Resources, together with 3D Systems, has successfully 3D printed an object using metal powder harvested from an asteroid, or meteorite to be specific. This object was 3D printed from an asteroid that was pulverized, powdered and processed on the new 3D Systems ProX DMP 320 metals 3D printer. The materials were sourced from the Campo Del Cielo impact near Argentina. It is composed of iron, nickel and cobalt—similar materials to refinery-grade steel. The resulting printout is a small model of a part of a spacecraft that resembles the Arkyd spacecraft that Planetary Resources is testing. It was revealed at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Planetary Resources CEO Chris Lewicki believes knowing how to build and manufacture in space is a necessary skill if humans ever want to conduct deep space missions. “Instead of manufacturing something in an Earth factory and putting it on a rocket and shipping it to space,” Lewicki said, “what if we put a 3D printer into space and everything we printed with it we got from space?” Such a statement implies that we will need to be capable enough to mine raw materials from space and convert them into valuable form. Planetary Resources’ asteroid-mining ambitions begin with water, which the company plans to split into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen, the two major components of rocket fuel. If done successfully, such a technology can be used for space “gas stations” for spacecrafts mid-voyage. The company aims to eventually mine platinum and other valuable metals from space rocks, but has no intentions of ever bringing a large amount of materials back to Earth.