Made In Space
Butch Wilmore with Ratchet
Here is Butch with the ratchet printed on the Zero G Printer
Quite often with 3D printing stories we often work somewhere in the future; researchers are studying to print human organs, astronauts will be printing spare parts and tools in space, desktop printing sales to reach x amount in 2018, HP to launch a printer in two years etc etc.
One of those stories has rocketed from potential to fully-fledged application in the here and now (well perhaps not the here part) as Made in Space send a 3D design of a much needed ratchet to ISS where it was printed by ISS Commander Butch Wilmore.
This is not the first tool or part printed in space, that was done last month after the 3D printer reached the space station in September this year, it however is the first “uplink” tool printed in space. Uplink refers to the process NASA use to communicate to ISS from earth, so this was a tool designed here on earth effectively emailed to ISS and printed in space. Quite remarkable.
Previously Butch has printed designs made and tested back down on earth but here was an opportunity to try out the theory in action. Butch had requested that the ratchet be delivered during the next cargo delivery to the ISS and Made in Space spotted an opportunity.
A quote from the Made In Space report says:
Made In Space Engineer Noah Paul-Gin 3D modelled the ratchet in Autodesk Inventor and then 3D printed several iterations on an identical Zero-G Printer located in the Made In Space ground station. During the rapid prototyping process, Noah realized that rounded edges and finger grooves on the handle would make the tool more ergonomic and improve the grip. The ratchet was designed as one print with moveable parts without any support material. The parts and mechanisms of the ratchet had to be enclosed to prevent pieces from floating in the microgravity environment.
The ratchet went through several iterations before being uplinked.
After Noah’s designs the file was sent to NASA for safety and security checks and uplinked to the space station. When Butch pressed print four hours later as the ISS flew over California the Zero G Printer he was presented with the very tool he had requested.
The future is now…