Space.com have posted on their website that in a televised call to the space station in February, NASA chief Charles Bolden asked two onboard residents at the time, U.S. astronauts Dan Burbank and Don Pettit, to talk about what astronauts are in need of, based on what they have seen and experienced on their travels.
''Onboard space station right now, astronauts have to be essentially jacks of all trade,'' Burbank said. ''We need to be able to fix anything and everything that happens.''
As people leave the Earth orbit, Burbank said that one of the key things needed is to essentially cut the cord from Earth and be able to keep spacecraft to the degree: ''that if something breaks, you can replace a part outright... you need to be able to fabricate a part.''
''NASA has a team of researchers from four different space agency centers working on demonstrating the full concept,'' said Karen Taminger, materials research engineer at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA.
Currently, all of the work is being done in labs on the ground, at NASA's Langley, Glenn, Marshall and Johnson space centers, Taminger said, ''but we are working towards demonstrating this capability on ISS.''
An enterprising team from Singularity University, a non-profit institution in California's Silicon Valley that works on forward thinking technologies, has formed a "Made in Space" company, carrying out parabolic flights last year to showcase their 3D printing initiative.
''With the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, there has been increased national focus on 3D printing and additive manufacturing in the past six months,'' Tamginer said. ''In addition to helping create manufacturing jobs in the US, we are pushing to demonstrate this on the ISS, in preparation for longer duration space exploration.''
Space-based, on-demand fabrication of metallic parts using additive manufacturing was outlined last month during the 1st Annual International Space Station Research & Development Conference held in Denver.
According to a research paper on the initiative, the EBF3 process NASA is exploring uses an electron beam and wire to fabricate metallic structures. The process efficiencies of the electron beam and the solid wire feedstock make the EBF3 process attractive for use in space, say researchers engaged in studying the manufacturing idea.
Although these experiments haven't been funded or scheduled yet: ''that is certainly where we would like to go,'' Taminger concluded.
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