AIT Zero Gravity 3D Printing

Athlone IT Developing ‘Zero Gravity’ 3D Printing Technology for Use in Space

Dr Sean Lyons Dean of Faculty of Engineering and Informatics with Dr Declan Devine Director of the Materials Research Institute

A team of researchers at Athlone Institute of Technology have been selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) to develop the world’s first large-scale, zero-gravity 3D printing machine for use on board the International Space Station.  

Named Project Imperial, the consortium will be draw on the expert knowledge of Dr Sean Lyons, Dean of Faculty of Engineering and Informatics, Dr Declan Devine, Director of the Materials Research Institute and Dr Ian Major, Principal Investigator at the Materials Research Institute at Athlone Institute of Technology. 

“Traditionally, 3D printers are based around simple materials and applications. They might look the part but they’re not hard or strong enough to be fully functional. Using cutting-edge material science, we’re going to design components that can be modified or configured for printing in zero gravity conditions on board the International Space Station,” Dr Sean Lyons explained.

“There are several applications for this technology, if something breaks on board the spacecraft, it’s not feasible to send a payload with spare parts all of the way to the International Space Station. Through Project Imperial, the astronauts will have the capability to pint parts as they are needed in situ. So, if an astronaut broke their arm, for example, they would be able to print a bespoke cast themselves.”

“We’re delighted to be collaborating on such seminal research with the European Space Agency and our European partners Sonaca Group, BEEVERYCREATIVE and OHB. It’s an amazing opportunity to demonstrate exactly what we’re capable of and the breadth of skills and expertise on offer at our award-winning institute."

Project Imperial is scheduled to run for two years – with the payload deployment expected by 2021. The 3D printed parts produced by this new technology will demonstrate the potential for extra-terrestrial manufacturing, enabling new maintenance and life support strategies for human space flight.