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Shape-shifting ‘4D’ printed objects could pave the way for outer space structures



It takes a lot of money to launch stuff into space — even by NASA terms. The cost ranges from around $9,000 to more than $40,000 per pound. With that sort of price tag, weight and space are at a major premium with shuttle missions, causing NASA to look for innovative new ways to create more compact payloads. A team at Georgia Institute of Technology is exploring a method that uses 3D printers to create small structures that expand when expose to heat that might some day help with the problem.

The method is a form of what the scientific community calls 4D printing, in which a 3D printed structure changes shape after a print. The fourth dimension here being time. It’s something of an industry buzzword of late, but it applies pretty well here. Like similar research by teams at schools like MIT, the Georgia Tech team’s work relies on temperature changes to start the transformation. Where the research differentiates itself from most is its use of tensegrity, a system in which floating solid roads are held together by cables. The systems are light, strong and easily collapsed, making them ideal for space travel.