After 3D printers devoted to space projects were shut down amidst the coronavirus pandemic, an idea to protect those fighting the outbreak on the front line was born.
Space innovation and local cooperation in a time of crisis are joining forces in the fight against COVID-19 to keep essential workers safe.
Instead of printing new materials and bricks for future lunar habitats, two 3D printers at ESA’s European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, Germany, were set to work on face shields for hospital workers.
The printers are steadily producing headbands and brackets for Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, and will be used in conjunction with a filtering mask. This type of face shield is essential in hospitals to protect staff against virus-carrying droplets.
A strong desire to help prompted the team from the "Advanced Manufacturing" activities of Spaceship EAC to offer their open-source 3D printers for producing face shields components as part of a local MakerVsVirus initiative. The design has been optimised through crowd engineering for an efficient and steady production.
ESA contributes its parts to the final product together with a wider hub of makers. The first batch of 50 holder elements has already been delivered to a local collection point, where all components are assembled before the face shields are distributed to hospitals in need. The team plans to continue printing remotely to solve the pressing demand as long as printing materials are available.
The printers were usually busy printing special items for astronaut training and testing ideas for future spaceflight. ESA is investigating how 3D printing could ease the construction, expansion and maintenance of a lunar base.
Before the lockdown, young minds were working on 3D printing new materials made of plastic and Moon dust simulants that could be used to build bricks for lunar habitats. This technology builds a solid object from a series of layers, each one printed on top of the last – also known as additive manufacturing.
The approach aims towards zero waste production and recycling, and gives astronauts the ability to produce components as they need them, rather than carrying a full suite of spare parts.
Read more about this initiative here.