Object Printed With 3D Printer Using ‘Alien’ Material For The First Time, Tech Could Be Used To Colonize Mars

Engineers revealed the first object ever printed on a 3D printer using “alien” material. The 3D printer was loaded with an asteroid that it used as “ink” to create the object. The object was revealed at CES in Las Vegas with the engineers noting that the technology could be used to build colonies on Mars using material found on the martian surface.

The Daily Mail stated that Planetary Resources and 3D Systems unveiled the first object ever printed on a 3D printer using “alien” material at CES in Las Vegas. The object was printed with “ink” created from an asteroid that was crushed into powder. The meteorite used for the ink was found in Argentina from the Campo Del Cielo. The meteorite was made up mostly of iron, nickel and cobalt, which made the end product very similar to a refined steel product. Therefore, the engineers are hopeful that the same process could be used to build a colony on Mars.

Cathy Lewis, chief marketing officer at 3D Systems, explained that turning the meteorite into 3D printer ink was actually rather simple. She says they just cut the asteroid in half and pulverized it into a powder. It was then loaded into the printer and the object was made.

“We literally cute the meteorite in half and found it was a very dense metal field. We took the top half of it and had it pulverized. Then we 3D printed a model in the machine using this metal product. It really is out of this world.”

The union between Planetary Resources and 3D Systems is intriguing in that Planetary Resources is a business, according to Engadget, that focusing on mining resources from planetary bodies such as asteroids. The company believes that these space objects are loaded with natural resources that can be used here on Earth and to further space exploration, such as by building colonies with the materials on Mars. The company believes that humans will one day rely on space resources to supplement natural resources here on Earth after they run out. The partnership with 3D Systems indicates that the company is also focused on colonizing other planetary bodies as the group discussed the possible use of the 3D technology to create colonies on Mars.

The idea behind the 3D printer utilization on Mars would be that the printers could build the colonies using materials already on the Mars surface. Therefore, humans would not need to send materials, aside from the printers, to Mars from Earth. Though the printer was able to print using “alien material,” it is noted that the printer now must be tested in “microgravity.”

It seems that 3D systems will likely have a lot of “alien” material to work with in the coming years as back in November, President Obama signed legislation that allows commercial extraction of minerals and other materials, including water, from asteroids and the moon. This means that any company that is able to get equipment to the moon or other celestial bodies is allowed to freely take resources from the martian surface.

Though the law was signed into legislation in the United States, it is unclear exactly where the law stands on celestial mining internationally. Space is technically not owned by the United States or any country; therefore, some have questioned the legality of the U.S. legislation allowing commercial mining in space. Some lawyers feel that the new act allowing for mining in space is in direct violation of the international Outer Space Treaty of 1967. This treaty declares that all countries must “avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.” It is noted that mining in space may be viewed as “harmful” by some parties in the treaty and that concerns about the legality of mining in space still exists.

Regardless of the outcome of space mining, if the 3D printers can handle working in a microgravity situation, pre-built space colonies may well be on the horizon.

What do you think about the idea of building a colony on Mars using 3D printers?

[Image via Planetary Resources]