First 3D printer in space gets ready for launch.
A 3D printing project from NASA may have the ability to alleviate the need for resupply ships at the International Space Station as a 3D printer is set to make its debut in space.
Straight from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville Alabama, the 3D Printing In Zero-G Technology Demonstration provided a Small Business Innovation Research award to Made In Space Inc. to develop a 3D printer for use in microgravity conditions.
Supported by three NASA customers, the printer is set to travel to the station aboard the SpaceX-4 resupply mission.
The goal is that the 3D printer will be able to produce parts in space the same as those made on the ground. This will reduce costs and risks on the station, create an on demand supply chain and provide critical resources when space explorers travel far from Earth.
"NASA is great at planning for component failures and contingencies; however, there’s always the potential for unknown scenarios that you couldn’t possibly think of ahead of time," said Ken Cooper, the principal investigator at Marshall for 3-D printing in a post on the NASA website. "That’s where a 3-D printer in space can pay off. While the first experiment is designed to test the 3-D printing process in microgravity, it is the first step in sustaining longer missions beyond low-Earth orbit."
Should the tests prove successful it will bring NASA and Made In Space closer to evolving in-space manufacturing for future missions such as Mars.
The printer will be particularly useful in performing repairs and replacements on board the station with parts taking anywhere between 15 minutes to an hour to print and can be operated from the ground.
The demonstration will help engineers develop the next generation printer known as the Additive Manufacturing Facility which will be used both on Earth and in space.