Space is expensive. Can 3D printing and in-orbit construction cut costs?
A little over ten years ago, NASA estimated that it cost around $ 10,000 to launch a single pound of payload into space. Today that price has dropped significantly, largely thanks to Elon Musk’s rocket company, SpaceX, as well as an explosion of other “new space” companies that are also focused on reusability.
SpaceX, for example, recently announced that one of its reusable rockets – a Falcon 9 booster dubbed B1051 – has officially flown more times than all but four of NASA’s space shuttles. And with new, larger launchers already in the works, like the company’s Starship spacecraft, the cost of reaching the cosmos could drop even lower in the years to come.
But even if the purchase price of a ticket to outer space collapses, future astronauts still face a difficult physical fact: launching large objects into orbit requires huge amounts of fuel and of giant rockets. So, even if the cost of a brief low Earth orbit jaunt drops to a more acceptable level, more intensive activities like colonizing the Moon and Mars will still require extensive travel to carry all the cargo needed to keep humans. alive and at ease.
At the moment, humanity’s approach to space travel in the 21st century is much like a turtle carrying its house on its back. So rather than sourcing building materials for future space colonies directly from Earth, most agree that it would be much cheaper if we instead options to use what is already available in space. .
And wouldn’t you know, a number of university researchers and private companies are working to make this happen, exploring the usefulness of futuristic ideas like robots capable of making parts of orbiting spacecraft, 3D space printers and even habitats from fungi.