3D printing of chemical nanofactories for space and extra-terrestrial manufacturing
To venture into space, via humans or robots, access to the universal chemistry-set available on earth is going to be essential to conduct new science, for repair, and even production of drugs, sensors, fuel, and feedstock's.
The only way to do this effectively is to bring a minimal chemistry set into space that can then be built into more complex molecules, materials, and polymers. The Chemospace project aims to do this in two ways (1) by using a small 3D printer to print the reaction networks and then (2) to print the chemical building blocks into the matrix which can be then be reacted in a cascade to give the compound in a pure form on the micro-chemistry-lab.
Why is this research important?
NASA and ESA have both stated that it is essential to access 'terrestrial' chemistries in space if advanced science / human exploration beyond LEO is going to be possible. This is because drugs, chemicals etc suffer badly in space from radiation damage, high CO2 etc. Also, it may be possible to use a chemical platform to use raw materials on Mars and Moon for fuel / water / basic chemical transformations.
- Prof Lee Cronin