Scientists from the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) and Copper3D,
a Chilean nanotechnology company have been awarded $1.13 million to create,
and test two original recyclable and antimicrobial materials for space manufacturing.
The partnership funded by NASA’s established program to stimulate competitive research (EPSCoR) is aimed at exploring new ways to safeguard astronauts from microbial,
and parasitic contamination during space missions,
which commonly increases in microgravity and confined spaces.
This grant fund will enable two new antimicrobial materials to be designed by Copper3D,
then produced and tested for safety on earth,
in a replica of Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF),
a commercial platform operating within the international space station (ISS) in low earth orbit (LEO).
When the safety of the material is approved,
the team will ready the materials for launch,
The operation, testing and return to Earth activities.
Scientists from the UNO department of biomechanics will partner with NASA and the 3D printer Manufacturer Made-in-Space,
to design the printed copies of the final device or test coupons and handle the post-testing of the antimicrobial performance on Earth.
A researcher partnering in this project,
Challenges and Beating them
Jorge Zuniga recounted the importance of having new materials tools,
medical devices and other objects with antimicrobial properties in space missions.
The Biomechanics Rehabilitation and Manufacturing Initiative (BRMI)’s co-director at UNO added that the most demanding obstacles include finding solutions to help long-term space mission crews suffering from an
“immune system dysregulation,”
an instance where the body cannot control immune responses.
A crucial point,
Zuniga notes are seeking solutions to bacteria and viruses that are resistant prone to microgravity,
which when added to the previous factor, makes any space mission more than 6 months in orbit risky.
nevertheless, An additional logistical aspect has to be considered in the research.
factoring in the limited space available on the ISS and future space exploration stations,
manned missions require logistical support systems that are becoming more autonomous and decentralized.
so they don’t take up precious space for materials and supplies.
An endless potential
A quick fix to this in recent years for this issue is additive manufacturing.
3D printing would enable astronauts to develop their spare parts and medical pieces of equipment on demand during long space missions.
While space agencies and private companies are developing space technology ,Which will supply in-space manufacturing devices that are sustainable for space exploration,
Copper3D has started integrating a few concepts of circularity into its research.
The plan is to use material several times varying applications.
Therefore, the material would have to be subjected to various recycling,
and re-manufacturing processes without losing its antimicrobial properties.
This would effectively save time, weight,
resupply missions and other medical and logistical complications that would enable safer and more feasible space travel.
The two firm’s partnership with NASA began in 2018 with funding to test Copper3D’s flagship antibacterial 3D printing filament in microgravity.
PLACTIVE was used at the time and incorporates a patented additive based on copper nanoparticles that can eliminate bacteria and viruses.
Later in 2019,
The NASA Nebraska Space Grant funding was awarded to evaluate the feasibility of additive manufacturing a set of medical devices suitable for astronauts operating under zero-gravity conditions.
Copper 3D aims to fix unique problems in extreme environments. including exploration bases.
Regarding the expectations of this study and the future of the technology,
Daniel Martinez Copper3D Co-Founder and Director of Innovation says
“The startup antimicrobial additive manufacturer has found multiple use cases since its creation in 2017.”
He also suggested that the ongoing collaboration with UNO and NASA encourages his team to continue developing new materials and antimicrobial applications
“for the big future challenges that we will have face in the fight against viruses and bacteria.”