News: a 3D printer approved by NASA will be flown to the International Space Station next year so astronauts can print components, tools and equipment on-demand in space.
Manufactured by Made in Space in collaboration with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the machine is the first 3D printer certified safe to withstand conditions of space travel and operate in microgravity conditions.
Experiments were undertaken during four microgravity flights lasting two hours each. The finished printer will be flown to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2014, aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
"The printer is built specifically to handle the environmental challenges of space and uses extrusion additive manufacturing, which builds objects layer by layer out of polymers and other materials," said Made in Space.
The device is not much larger than a shoebox and is totally enclosed. The exterior is made from metal and a glass front provides a view of the inside.
The printer is estimated to be capable of building 30% of the spare parts on the space station as well as a range of speciality objects, tools and equipment upgrades. Hundreds of useful items will be able to be printed on demand, from clips, buckles and containers to replacements for broken or damaged accessories.
"The 3D printer we’re developing for the ISS is all about enabling astronauts today to be less dependent on Earth," said Noah Paul-Gin, microgravity experiment lead.
Technology website Gigaom reported last week that this technology will end the 'game over' scenarios that the space industry spends significant resources trying to predict. "The problem with space missions today is you only get one shot," Made in Space CEO and co-founder Aaron Kemmer told Gigaom. "If you send up a satellite or a spacecraft or a tool or pretty much anything and something goes wrong, you’re then out of luck."
"There surely has been a lot of near misses in the past with spaceflight," CTO and co-founder of Made in Space, Jason Dunn said. "When we start going out to Mars and back to the moon and going to asteroids, it’s going to be even more important that they [astronauts] have printers with them."
Earlier this year Foster + Partners began exploring the possibilities of 3D printing buildings on the moon using lunar soil and a team of "space architects" unveiled designs for a 3D printed moon base.
Photographs are by Made in Space.