COLOGNE, Germany—A team of students from the Munich University of Applied Sciences (AIMIS-FYT) has developed a 3D printer with drylin linear units from igus GmbH that can cost-effectively produce structural parts in space. Building the printer is part of an aerospace engineering course for the students. 

The printed parts are designed primarily to withstand the high wind loads during the launch phase of a spacecraft, but are oversized for later operating times. The students rely on photoreactive resin and UV light, which hardens the resin.

AIMIS-FYT used igus linear modules in the two z-axes and the x-axis to form the central drive unit. The linear axes are made with low weight aluminum and maintenance-free sliding elements made of high-performance plastics.

The budding engineers used adjustable bearings to reduce the play of the lubricant-free and dirt-resistant polymer linear slider. A compact robolink D rotary axis with worm gear was built into the printer so that the printing filament can also be rotated.

To test the printer and the process, the team applied for and was accepted into the FlyYourThesis! Program of the European Space Agency. The agency's parabolic flights took place in November and December 2020, and provided ideal conditions for a real test printer. When the aircraft reached the apex of the climb and tipped over into descent, microgravity occurred, which is very similar to weightlessness in space.

“The linear axes always ran without problems in all experiments, so we were able to print a small rod and small truss structures for each parabola,’’ says Torbon Schafer, a student on the AIMIS-FYT team.