By Simon | 3Ders
With everything from Hollywood movies such as Interstellar to the recently-successful comet landing and launch of the first 3D printer in space, the hype surrounding the possible living conditions outside of earth's atmosphere has never been more exciting...or realistic.
Among one of the more recent efforts to make living in a zero-gravity environment more realistic for humans is the design and development of a 3D printed buckle.
Aimed at preventing muscle loss and maintaining heart strength in a zero-gravity environment, the easily-replicated device is among the first designs to be considered for space-based manufacturing.
Designed by astronaut and on-board flight surgeon Yvonne Cagle, in partnership with Made in Space and the Singularity University, the device is similar to compression bands used by athletes to help in encourage blood flow to specific areas, such as a knee brace worn by runners or an elbow brace worn by tennis players.
Unlike something you might find an athlete wearing on earth however, the engineering challenge was focused on creating a device that was durable enough to hold up on space flights.
"In order to get there you need something that is going to be a really powerful stabilizer but has a small enough footprint and is simple enough to fix or print more if you need it," said Cagle.
"Without the buckle, it's just an Ace wrap that isn't able to generate higher pressures that could protect muscles and nerves. The buckle is really the turnkey to lock together the different embodiments and design."
Designed in Autodesk's Fusion 360 CAD program, the final buckle iteration is designed to be easily replicated in the case that it is damaged at any time during a strenuous space flight take-off or at any other time during a space mission.
In partnership with Made in Space, creators of the first zero-gravity 3D printer that launched in September of 2014, Cagle is expecting to start manufacturing the device in the second quarter of 2015 when Made in Space launches their second generation 3D printer into the stratosphere. She then plans to gather data and feedback to make the design even better.
Similar to earth-based 3D printing, the ability to make mistakes and fix them easily is proving to be a valuable asset for additive manufacturing on a zero-gravity 3D printer.
"Using 3D printing, we didn't have to go back to the manufacturer," Said Cagle on the topic of iterative design. "We just redid the print trying out different designs in a matter of minutes."
Cagle plans to expand her portfolio of 3D printable designs with products ranging from connected inventory tracking devices to utensils and replaceable first aid supplies.
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