To prepare for a future where parts can be built on-demand in space, NASA has announced ambitious plans to launch equipment for the first 3-D microgravity printing experiment to the International Space Station.
Partnered with Made in Space Inc. of Mountain View, California, Nasa will launch the first 3D printer to space in 2014. If successful, the 3-D Printing in Zero G Experiment will be the first device to manufacture parts in space.
All space missions today are completely dependent on Earth and the launch vehicles that send equipment to space. The greater the distance from Earth and the longer the duration, the more difficult it will be to resupply materials.
"As NASA ventures further into space, whether redirecting an asteroid or sending humans to Mars, we'll need transformative technology to reduce cargo weight and volume," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "In the future, perhaps astronauts will be able to print the tools or components they need while in space."
The Made in Space and NASA team envisions a future where 3D printing may allow an entire spacecraft to be manufactured in space and space missions can be virtually self-sufficient and manufacture most of what they need in space.
Made in Space CTO Jason Dunn displays a 3D Printing Test Experiment. (Credit: Made in Space)
In addition to manufacturing spacecraft designs in orbit, 3D printers also could work with robotic systems to create tools and habitats needed for human missions to Mars and other planetary destinations. Housing and laboratories could be fabricated by robots using printed building blocks that take advantage of in-situ resources, such as soil or minerals. Astronauts on long-duration space missions also could print and recycle tools as they are needed, saving mass, volume and resources.
"The 3-D Print experiment with NASA is a step towards the future," said Aaron Kemmer, CEO of Made in Space. "The ability to 3D print parts and tools on demand greatly increases the reliability and safety of space missions while also dropping the cost by orders of magnitude. The first printers will start by building test items, such as computer component boards, and will then build a broad range of parts, such as tools and science equipment."
Made in Space CTO Jason Dunn (left) and P.I. of the 3DP Experiment Mike Snyder look to optimize the first 3D printer for space. (Credit: Made in Space)
Made in Space previously partnered with NASA through the agency's Flight Opportunities Program to test its 3D printer prototype on suborbital simulated microgravity flights.
In preparation for the 2014 launch, Made in Space tested a diverse array of 3D printing technologies in zero-gravity in 2011 and is conducting additional microgravity tests this year. The Made in Space 3D Printer is built specifically to handle the environmental challenges. The 3D printer is scheduled to be certified in 2014, and after that, NASA plans to ship 3D printer to the space station aboard an American commercial resupply mission. NASA is working with American industry to develop commercially-provided U.S. spacecraft and launch vehicles for delivery of cargo -- and eventually crew -- to the International Space Station.
Posted in 3D Printers
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Nooblenin wrote at 6/4/2013 11:22:55 AM:
I know a lot of people really interested in recycling printed objects back into filament. This article gives the impression NASA has a solution to that, and if they do I really really want to hear about it.