May.28, 2013

NASA is planning to send a 3D printer to the International Space Station (ISS) in August 2014.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala is working with Made In Space, which specializes in low-gravity additive manufacturing on this project. According to the team, more than 30 percent of the spare parts currently aboard the ISS can be manufactured by Made in Space's 3D printers. "The first printers will start by building test coupons, and will then build a broad range of parts, such as tools and science equipment," said Made in Space CEO Aaron Kemmer.

"3D printing is an exciting technology," Niki Werkheiser, 3D Print project manager at NASA Marshall's Technology Development and Transfer Office, said in a statement. "It will allow us to live and work in space with the same efficiency and productivity that we do on Earth, with the ultimate objective being to eliminate reliance on materials and parts launched from the ground."

In a separate project, NASA officials confirmed this week that the space agency awarded $125,000 to the Austin, Texas-based company Systems and Materials Research Consultancy (SMRC) to further develop a fully functional 3D printer for printing customized nutritious food for astronauts during long distance space travel.

As NASA ventures farther into space, the agency will need to make improvements in life support systems and to meet safety, acceptability, variety, and nutritional stability requirements for long exploration missions.

"The current food system wouldn't meet the nutritional needs and five-year shelf life required for a mission to Mars or other long duration missions," NASA officials said in a statement. "Because refrigeration and freezing require significant spacecraft resources, current NASA provisions consist solely of individually prepackaged shelf stable foods, processed with technologies that degrade the micronutrients in the foods."

Food tasting session in the Habitability and Environmental Factors Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Credit: NASA

NASA officials said SMRC will explore whether a 3D-printed food system is capable to enable nutrient stability and provide a variety of foods from shelf stable ingredients, while minimizing crew time and waste.

"Long distance space travel requires 15-plus years of shelf life," Anjan Contractor, a senior mechanical engineer at SMRC, told Quartz. "The way we are working on it is, all the carbs, proteins and macro and micro nutrients are in powder form. We take moisture out, and in that form it will last maybe 30 years."

(Credit: NASA)

SMRC will conduct a study for the development of a 3D printed food system but NASA says these Phase I SBIR proposals are very early stage concepts that may or may not mature into actual systems. This food printing technology may result in a phase II study, which still will be several years from being tested on an actual space flight.

"NASA recognizes in-space and additive manufacturing offers the potential for new mission opportunities, whether "printing" food, tools or entire spacecraft." space agency officials said. "Additive manufacturing offers opportunities to get the best fit, form and delivery systems of materials for deep space travel."

 

 

 

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