NASA’s Version of Star Trek Replicator Ready for On Orbit Test

Discussion in 'Science and Technology' started by USS Excelsior, Sep 30, 2009.

  1. USS Excelsior

    USS Excelsior Commodore Commodore

    Jun 16, 2004
    Alpha Quadrant
    [SIZE="4"]NASA’s Version of Star Trek Replicator Ready for On Orbit Test[/SIZE]

    It’s not quite like requesting “Tea, Earl Grey, hot” and having a steaming drink appear, but almost. The Electron Beam Freeform Fabrication, developed at NASA’s Langley Research Center, is an engineer’s version of the science fiction replicator on Star Trek.

    “You start with a drawing of the part you want to build, you push a button, and out comes the part,” said Karen Taminger, the technology lead for NASA’s Fundamental Aeronautics Program.

    Electron Beam Freeform Fabrication or EBF3150 creates part for airplanes, not food and drink and uses an environmentally-friendly construction process to manufacture layered metal objects. This technique could revolutionize the aviation industry and may have applications for the future spacecraft and the medical community as well. It can be used to make small, detailed parts or large structural pieces of airplanes.

    EBF3150 works in a vacuum chamber, where an electron beam is focused on a constantly feeding source of metal, which is melted and then applied layer by layer on top of a rotating surface until the part is complete. A detailed 3-dimensional cross-sectional drawing of the part is fed into the device’s computer, providing information of how the the part should be built from the inside out. This guides the electron beam and and the inflow of metal to produce the object, building it up layer by layer.

    Commercial applications for EBF3150 are already known and its potential already tested, Taminger said, noting it’s possible that, within a few years, some aircraft will be flying with parts made by this process.

    The metals used must be compatible with the electron beam so that it can be heated by the stream of energy and briefly turned into liquid form. Aluminum an ideal material to be used, but other metals can be used as well. In fact, the EBF3150 can handle two different sources of the feed stock metal at the same time, either by mixing them together into a unique alloy or embedding one material inside another, such as inserting a strand of fiber optic glass inside an aluminum part, enabling the placement of sensors in areas that were impossible before, Taminger said.

    While the EBF3 equipment tested on the ground is fairly large and heavy, a smaller version was created and successfully test flown on a NASA jet that is used to provide researchers with brief periods of weightlessness. The next step is to fly a demonstration of the hardware on the International Space Station, Taminger said.

    Future lunar base crews could use EBF3 to manufacture spare parts as needed, rather than rely on a supply of parts launched from Earth. Astronauts might be able to mine feed stock from the lunar soil, or even recycle used landing craft stages by melting them.

    But the immediate and greatest potential for the process is in the aviation industry where major structural segments of an airliner, or casings for a jet engine, could be manufactured for about $1,000 per pound less than conventional means, Taminger said.

    The device is environmentally friendly because its unique manufacturing technique cuts down on the amount of waste. Normally an aircraft builder might start with a 6,000-pound block of titanium and machine it down to a 300-pound part, leaving 5,700 pounds of material that needs to be recycled and using several thousand gallons of cutting fluid used in the process..

    “With EBF3 you can build up the same part using only 350 pounds of titanium and machine away just 50 pounds to get the part into its final configuration,” Taminger said. “And the EBF3 process uses much less electricity to create the same part.”

    While initial parts for the aviation industry will be simple shapes, replacing parts already designed, future parts designed from scratch with the EBF3150 process in mind could lead to improvements in jet engine efficiency, fuel burn rate and component lifetime.

    “There’s a lot of power in being able to build up your part layer by layer because you can get internal cavities and complexities that are not possible with machining from a solid block of material,” Taminger said.

  2. Lindley

    Lindley Moderator with a Soul Premium Member

    Nov 30, 2001
    Bonney Lake, WA
    How is this different from the sorts of 3D printers which have been around for a while?
  3. Gepard

    Gepard Vice Admiral Admiral

    Oct 20, 2007
    ^There's more floating.
  4. USS Excelsior

    USS Excelsior Commodore Commodore

    Jun 16, 2004
    Alpha Quadrant
    Yes this is exclusively about making metal tools.
  5. sojourner

    sojourner Admiral Admiral

    Sep 4, 2008
    Just around the bend.
    Existing 3-d printers are plastics based. This new device seems to be an order of magnitude above that insomuch as it can use and create complex metal alloys and multiple materials concurrently.
  6. Bill Morris

    Bill Morris Commodore Commodore

    Apr 10, 2005
    Those 3-D printers use a type of fast prototyping called stereolithography, building parts in a chamber with plastic layer by layer, that's in its fifth generation or so by now.

    For metal parts it's selective laser sintering, which basically involves sweeping metal dust across the floor of a chamber then fusing it little by little with a laser beam then sweeping another thin layer of dust across, repeating the process until you've got your desired metal object formed and sitting in chamber full of metal dust.

    Both require gravity. This new system NASA is testing out apparently doesn't, making it appropriate for the ISS, interplanetary craft, moon bases, etc.

    Even moon dust could theoretically be formed into masonary by doing selective laser sintering outdoors on the moon but would require a lot of solar energy and time. It could be automated and create buildings while clearing the area of pesky moon dust, which sticks to everything and would be nice to have cleared away from a moon base, anyway.

    By the way, there are commercial shops now that will have their machines build a detailed starship model if you bring them a mesh file compatible with Lightwave, etc. and are willing to pay the price to have it rendered in plastic.
  7. Trekker4747

    Trekker4747 Boldly going... Premium Member

    Jul 16, 2001
    Kansas City
    Re: NASA’s Version of Star Trek Replicator Ready for On Orbit Test

    I think that video was edited by a teenaged ADD kid off his ritalin. I mean

    what is the point in having your host talk for a moment and then

    jump cut to a different framing of him? One second he's

    talking on the left side of the screen

    and then

    [RIGHT]jump cut to him talking on the right side of the screen[/RIGHT]

    And then just to mix things up...

    Jump cut to a close-up of him in the center of the screen!​

    And he talks with his hands like he's a free-style-rapper turned personal trainer.

  8. CuttingEdge100

    CuttingEdge100 Commodore Commodore

    Dec 14, 2005
    It is basically a 3D printer, but in this case it's geared for making metal