It's often said that necessity is the mother of invention. When a challenge arises, innovators turn out a mind-boggling number of technological advances.
This is perhaps most evident in the space race. In a testament to the exponential growth of technology, it only took 65 years and seven months from the first manned flight in 1903 to Neil Armstrong first setting foot on Earth's moon in 1969.
Almost five decades since Armstrong's giant leap for mankind, the new space race is promoting an even greater round of technological breakthroughs that may go on to take humanity beyond the bounds of our current home star. Current advances, such as 3D printing technology, drones, engineering and design software, make up the new toolbox that will bring humans to Mars, the rest of the solar system and beyond.
Leading up to the launch
3D modelling and printing are playing an increasingly large role in the initial design and construction of the vehicles that carry humans, drones and cargo out of the Earth's atmosphere.
The Curiosity rover has now been on Mars for over 1,300 days, collecting samples and transmitting vital data on the Martian surface back to scientists. Though Curiosity has settled into a somewhat comfortable routine, its initial trip to the red planet was fraught with danger, including the need to drop from nearly 21,000 to 0 kph in seven minutes for a safe landing.
Given the costs of the mission, re-doing the landing was not an option. Engineers planned for it and other hazards using engineering software applications, which software allowed engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to plan for the dangers Curiosity would encounter through advanced and intelligent modelling.
While 3D modelling can help plan for design and construction, 3D printing can actually create the components that get spacecraft off the ground. SpaceX, which has been an instrumental player in the private sector's contributions to space exploration, uses 3D printing to create the engine chamber on its SuperDraco thrusters.
"Through 3D printing, robust and high-performing engine parts can be created at a fraction of the cost and time of traditional manufacturing methods," said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
For missions in progress
While 3D printing is making parts on the ground, it also can be used for outfitting missions in progress. Previously, missions in space were limited to the supplies brought along in the process. Now, 3D printing technology means that certain equipment can be manufactured in space.
The International Space Station (ISS) has proven to be crucial in testing the feasibility of 3D printing in space. In 2014, the ISS crew was able to print out a ratchet wrench from designs that were transmitted from Earth to the station. Other objects, whose files were loaded into the printer before it was sent up, were also printed. NASA will use these to examine the effect of microgravity environments on the printing process.
Moving beyond our solar system
While a number of movies have sought to portray humanity's exploration of distant star systems, one venture is developing ways to make these voyages a reality. Breakthrough Starshot is a research initiative testing the potential for nanocraft drones to explore the Alpha Centauri system.
Propelled with a lightweight sail and a light beam emitter, these craft may be able to travel at 20 per cent of light speed, reaching Alpha Centauri in just 20 years. Upon arrival, they would be able to gather photographs and other data and transmit the information back to Earth.
Autodesk and NASA
NASA have been long term partners of Autodesk, utilising their industry leading software solutions in many ways. See the links below to learn more:
While these technologies are making waves in space, 3D printing and Autodesk modelling software have a number of applications back on Earth.
Contact Redstack for more information and pricing on a 3D printing or modelling solution to meet your needs or purchase your 3D Printing, design and drone technologies now from the online store.