Things are really heating up in the commercial space industry, with SpaceX beginning to look into manned flight, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) Dream Chaser is finally getting tested, and Virgin Galactic could be ferrying customers up to the heavens in the SpaceShip 2 space plane by the end of the year. But all these are either for the rich or even richer companies or institutes, so where does that leave your average Joe?
Well, while it’s not exactly in the realm of affordability for most people, World View’s 2 hour ride near the edge of space could tickle the fancy of people with a spare 65,000 Euro’s on the hip, which is about a third of what Virgin Galactic are wanting for their high speed, zero G rocket plane ride. Customers are sent up in effectively a hot air balloon attached to a sealed, pressurized capsule.
To design the impressive looking capsule, World View used a lot of 3D printing to come up with various prototypes and designs. Jane Poynter, CEO of World View and president of World View’s parent company, Paragon Space Development Corporation, shared her view on 3D printing and where it could lead us.
“Much like space technologies, 3D printing technologies have been around for quite a while and we have used them a lot for prototyping many parts of the capsule. At Paragon we have also been using 3D printing, mostly in the prototyping phase, for close to 20 years.” Although, said Jane, we are truly hitting an inflection point. “Every year we are seeing a tremendous increase in activity and not just from people who are big dreamers but from those who are big doers as well. This is true for space technologies as well as 3D printing: i think we are going to see a lot of economic growth in these sectors in the upcoming years.”
“3D printing technologies will also play an important part in future deep space missions”, added Jane, who is also developing the life-support systems for the Inspiration Mars free-return mission in 2018. “When planning for a long range space mission you have to take into consideration the necessity of carrying a lot of spare parts, in case something critical breaks. And it will happen. But you do not know in advance what will break so you have to carry along a lot of extra weight. With 3D printing we will be able to carry just the digital design of all parts and a reservoir of powdered metal to 3D print it as needed. That will be a real game changer.”