IMPERIAL: 3D printing’s new dimension

ESA’s new IMPERIAL 3D printer can print parts much larger than itself, overcoming one of the main constraints of the process – limited build volume.

What is also known as ‘Additive manufacturing’ is an essential enabling technology for deep space crewed missions. Accordingly, this printer has been specially designed with ‘out-of-Earth’ manufacturing in mind, enabling future space explorers to produce structures, tools and spare parts as needed. Built to operate in weightlessness the printer is capable of printing high performance polymer parts of unlimited dimensions along a single direction.

The project was undertaken for ESA by a consortium led by OHB in Germany, with Azimut Space in Germany, Athlone Institute of Technology in the Republic of Ireland and BEEVERYCREATIVE in Portugal developing the 3D printer. Now this ground-based prototype is complete, the next step would be to test it in orbit aboard the International Space Station.

Enabling astronauts to 3D print large parts will be vital to the autonomy and sustainability of future space missions.

The developed printer shall be compatible with the International Space Station (ISS).

Technical requirements

  • Print with high performance polymers with mechanical and thermal properties like PEEK
  • Print under microgravity condition with quality comparable to printing under nominal conditions
  • Print large parts and at least print parts with unlimited size in one direction
  • Peak power consumption is limited to the power budget of the ISS
  • The functional parts are ready-to-use directly after the removal from the 3D printer, as post-processing would imply the presence of additional dedicated facilities
  • Waste production minimized or recycled or reused in the process flow.

ISS interface requirements

Environmental requirements

The end-to-end mission scenario from the launch, on-board operations, disposal and waste treatment was taken into account. The 3D printer was designed to fit the available upload configurations and corresponding loads.

Interface requirements

The technology was selected based on the resources available on board the ISS.

Operations and Safety

The International Space Station (ISS) is a platform requiring continuous human occupancy on long duration spaceflight missions. All regulations guaranteeing the general health and safety of the crew have been complied with.

ESA publications

Video – Project IMPERIAL



Azimut Space