3D printing is capable of some incredible things, from creating huge bridges, prosthetics for amputees, and even human hearts using biological “ink.” Jumping on this bandwagon, the asteroid mining company Planetary Resources has been flaunting their own attempts at 3D printing at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The results are literally out-of-this-world 3D printing, with the company showcasing a design forged from asteroid materials.
Planetary Resources’ raison d'être is to mine valuable resources from asteroids, which are demonstrably rich sources of metals and compounds – including platinum, nickel, iron, and cobalt. Many contain plentiful water, which could be converted into rocket fuel and help prolong space missions. Their ultimate aim is to help create a space-based business economy: ambitious for sure, but its CEO, Chris Lewicki, thinks that this will be possible by 2025.
Although this process has yet to begin, Lewicki was determined to have a presence at the world-renowned technological showcase. Using a meteorite that landed in Campo Del Cielo, Argentina, a decorative object has been made out of it, essentially a 3D Planetary Resources logo. The partnership with 3D Systems has resulted in the first-ever direct metal print from asteroid-derived metals.
The 3D-printed logo, made from nickel, iron and cobalt. Credit: Planetary Resources
Explaining the motivation behind the 3D printing to Engadget, Lewicki said: “Instead of manufacturing something in an Earth factory and putting it on a rocket and shipping it to space, what if we put a 3D printer into space and everything we printed with it we got from space? There are billions and billions of tons of this material in space.”
Despite this world first, the technique used to print the material isn’t new. Nevertheless, it does highlight the fact that 3D printing, a clearly versatile technology, can be applied to asteroid-mined materials. NASA is also aware of the possibilities: Officials have previously noted that 3D printing could assist human space exploration, with spacecraft, outposts, and supplies generated on other planets and celestial objects using this exact technique.