People have been enamored with the concept of space colonies ever since we realized that it was possible with sufficiently advanced techniques and technologies. Some of the plans are simple and straightforward, being little more than collection of buildings established on other planets as well as other celestial objects. In contrast, other plans are much more fantastical in nature, ranging from space stations to their much bigger and much more ambitious cousins.
Regardless, there are a number of serious challenges that must be solved before space colonies can become more than a blueprint. For example, neither space nor the other celestial objects within convenient reach have the same kind of atmosphere that can be found on Earth, meaning that space colonies will have to have some way of providing their inhabitants with oxygen.
Similarly, both space and other celestial objects tend to have a lack of a number of important materials such as water that are so common on Earth that many of us take them for granted, meaning that space colonies will not be able to survive without receiving shipments on a regular basis. These are two of the many challenges that exist in relation to space colonization, meaning that optimistic predictions of space colonies within a matter of mere decades might be a bit premature.
How Can 3D Printing Help with Space Colonization?
With that said, since there are a number of important institutions that are pouring significant amounts of resources into space colonization, it should come as no surprise to learn that progress is being made on some of the challenges through the use of advanced techniques and technologies. One of the best examples is 3D printing, which possesses much promise not just for space colonization but also for other human endeavors.
In short, 3D printing is exactly what it sounds like, which is to say, it is the production of three-dimensional objects by using the information contained in a digital file. There is significant variation when it comes to 3D printing because different 3D printers use different techniques and technologies, but generally speaking, it is done by putting layer after layer of material on top of one another until the result is recognizable as the desired object. Although most 3D printers use a single material, they have come far that more advanced models can use multiple materials at the same time, which makes them capable of creating much more complicated three-dimensional objects than otherwise possible.
First and foremost, the use of 3D printing means a reduction in the space colonies’ need for manufacturing capabilities. After all, 3D printers can be used to create a lot of the tools, machines, and other items that they will need to survive in one of the most inhospitable environments imaginable so long as they have sufficient supplies of whatever materials that they need to do so. This is important because similar manufacturing capabilities would not be possible without an enormous consumption of resources as well as an enormous consumption of space, which would have to be limited in space colonies because more space means a lot more costs.
In main, this is because manufacturing lines are highly specialized, meaning that they are used to produce a limited range of products and cannot be changed to produce something else on short notice without a significant expenditure of manpower and other productive resources. However, it should also be noted that manufacturing lines are inherently expensive and time-consuming to set up, thus increasing the costs for an already prohibitively expensive project. As a result, space colonies with 3D printing are almost guaranteed to be more efficient and effective than counterparts without 3D printing, which in turn, raises their viability in both the short run and the long run.
Second, since 3D printing is so much more efficient and effective, its use for space colonies would free up space in the shipments that will still have to be sent to them. After all, most of the tools, machines, and supplies that the colonists will need can be made with their 3D printers so long as they have sufficient stocks of materials, which means that there will be more room in the transports for extra materials as well as whatever they cannot make on their own but also cannot do without.
As a result, space colonies with 3D printing will benefit from not just cheaper operating costs but also a bigger chance of making it in their new home. Partly, this is because more room for the essentials means that they will have bigger reserves for when something goes wrong, and partly, this is because 3D printing will make them more responsive when it comes to dealing with all of the unexpected contingencies that can come up in the course of their existence.
Something that is critically important in inhospitable environments such as space because even small mistakes can come with catastrophic consequences unless people can respond to them in a decisive and timely manner, which is not necessarily possible when they are also lacking in important tools, machines, and supplies.
Finally, it should be noted that 3D printing promises to make space colonies more self-sustaining than otherwise possible. This is because 3D printers use relatively simple inputs, meaning that if space colonies can establish mining operations on the surface of the celestial objects in our solar system, they might be able to produce more of those inputs on their own. In turn, this means a lessening of their dependence on shipments sent from Earth, which would also come with the benefit of making them more capable of absorbing unexpected and unwelcome shocks.
With that said, 3D printing is still in its infancy, meaning that it is still far from reaching its full potential. Furthermore, 3D printing will not be able to solve all of the challenges facing space colonization, meaning that it will not be possible without the development of other advanced techniques and technologies. However, considering 3D printing’s potential as well as the speed with which said potential is being realized, it seems probable that we will see them playing a bigger and bigger role in our lives as time passes.