Dec 29, 2014

When International Space Station commander Barry Wilmore needed a wrench, rather than having to go to the trouble of sending one, NASA emailed him a digital file. This is the first time a design file has been sent from the ground to make a tool. Now NASA has made open source files available so that you can download this piece of history and print it out on your own printer.

International Space Station Expedition 42 Commander Barry "Butch" Wilmore shows off a ratchet wrench made with a 3-D printer on the station. Image Credit: NASA

The wrench is 4.48 inch (11.38cm) long and 1.29 inch (3.28cm) wide and was designed by Noah Paul-Gin, an engineer at Made In Space Inc. a northern California company that NASA contracted to design, build and operate the printer. The 3D printer deposited totally 104 layers of ABS plastic and the wrench took four hours to complete.

The 3D printed ratchet wrench. Image Credit: Made In Space

"For the printer's final test in this phase of operations, NASA wanted to validate the process for printing on demand, which will be critical on longer journeys to Mars," explained Niki Werkheiser, the space station 3-D printer program manager at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

It can take months or even years to get equipment to space, and for exploration missions, resupply from Earth may be impossible. This technology may change how NASA completes exploration missions.

"We wanted to work this just like we would for tools that the astronauts will 3-D print and use on the station," explained Werkheiser. "This wrench will not be used in space, but what if it were a tool the crew needed? We are breaking new ground not only in the way we manufacture in space but also in the way we operate and approve space hardware that is built in space, rather than launched from Earth."

"If you can transmit a file to the station as quickly as you can send an email, it opens up endless possibilities for all the types of things that you can make from CubeSat components to experiment hardware," Werkheiser added. "We even may be able to make objects that previously couldn't even be launched to space."

International Space Station astronaut Barry "Butch" Wilmore holds a science sample container that took two hours to make. The container was the first object to be printed with two parts: a lid and a container. Image Credit: NASA

In addition to the wrench, the printer made objects with 13 different designs and built a total of 20 objects. Except for the ratchet, the other 19 objects were preprogrammed into the printer before it left Earth.This 3D printed ratchet wrench and other parts will be returned to the ground early next year for analysis, testing and comparison to the samples which were made on the ground with the same printer.

Data gathered from these early tests will help NASA and Made In Space prepare for the second phase of printer operations scheduled for early 2015.

"For our next phase of operations, we are working with the astronaut office to identify existing tools that we can make with the printer." Werkheiser said. "We can't wait until it is routine to see station astronauts use tools that they built in space."

You can download the designs for the wrench here.




Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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up and at eem wrote at 1/1/2015 9:49:46 PM:

I Printed this off and didn't find the design to be that good. im surprised that something that NASA would use is so poorly designed.

Vince Vacuum wrote at 12/29/2014 5:54:56 PM:

Can we have more details on how the plastic behaves being printed in 0g. Can the tools be used outside the station and do they have problems venting when they are taken outside ?

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