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Orbital Matter to 3D print in orbit

The vacuum printer will be launched as part of the Replicator mission on the Ariane 6 rocket

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Europe’s newest rocket, Ariane 6, is set to launch soon – carrying various space missions with unique objectives. Among these is the Replicator mission by Orbital Matter, a startup based in Warsaw and Berlin, which aims to demonstrate innovative 3D printing technology in orbit. This technology has the potential to revolutionize space construction, enabling the creation of new structures with fewer resources.

Orbital Matter to demonstrate 3D printing in orbit. The system will be launched as part of the Replicator mission on the Ariane 6 rocket.
A prototype of the vacuum printer onboard Orbital Matter’s Replicator CubeSat.

The Replicator mission pays homage to advanced manufacturing methods depicted in science fiction, like Star Trek’s meal-synthesizing Replicators and the self-replicating Von Neumann Probe. However, Orbital Matter’s goals are more practical: they aspire to become the first construction company in space, manufacturing large space infrastructure directly in orbit, on the Moon, and on Mars. Their 3D printing method works in a vacuum and microgravity without generating heat, significantly speeding up the process as it avoids the slow cooling period required in space.

Additive manufacturing was first tested in space on the International Space Station (ISS) in 2014 and has been useful for creating tools and spare parts on demand. However, existing 3D printing technologies have not been effective in the harsh conditions of open space outside the ISS. Orbital Matter’s innovation could change this, allowing for the construction of large structures without needing to withstand launch stresses, which can lead to more efficient use of materials.

Building directly in space could enable the creation of large solar power plants, communication antennas, telescopes, and even larger space stations. These advancements could make electricity more accessible and affordable, reduce communication costs, and further space exploration and tourism.

Orbital Matter has already demonstrated their 3D printing technology in a vacuum on Earth. With the launch of Ariane 6, they will test their three-unit CubeSat, which will print a 50 cm beam in space from a custom polymer material.

Thanks to the ESA PUSH opportunity, we’re demonstrating our 3D printer in orbit a remarkable 12 months ahead of schedule,” said Jakub Stojek, CEO of Orbital Matter. “This is a great example of how European technological independence can be built in space, by fostering rapid prototyping for startups across Europe.”

Orbital Matter to demonstrate 3D printing in orbit. The system will be launched as part of the Replicator mission on the Ariane 6 rocket.
Jakub Stojek, CEO of Orbital Matter, and Robert Ihnatisin, Chief Technology Officer, with a replica of their Replicator CubeSat at their office in Warsaw.

“Ariane 6 will act as a catalyst for the renewed launch capabilities of Europe, and our experiment during its inaugural flight could help Europe become a leading player in in-space manufacturing, as we demonstrate it is indeed possible to 3D print in exposed space,” said Robert Ihnatisin, Chief Technology Officer at Orbital Matter.

The mission has been supported by Paris-based launch provider RIDE! space, which offers end-to-end launch services and has assisted Orbital Matter throughout its mission planning and development.

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746 composites AM companies individually surveyed and studied. Core composites AM market generated over $785 million in 2023. Market expected to grow to $7.8 billion by 2033 at 25.8% CAGR. This new...

Edward Wakefield

Edward is a freelance writer and additive manufacturing enthusiast looking to make AM more accessible and understandable.

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