Nov.14, 2013

A 3D printer will be sent to the space station in August 2014. In collaboration with California-based company Made in Space, NASA will have a new 3D printer to test out next year which will be able to fabricate tool and materials that the astronauts need, in a more timely manner.

"The 3D printer that we're going to fly on space station will actually be the first-ever 3D printer in space," said NASA Marshall Flight Center's 3-D print project manager Niki Werkheiser. "It is the first step toward [the 'Star Trek' replicator]." In the video below, Werkheiser talks about how the new technology may be used on the International Space Station and gives a few examples of the spare parts that a 3D printer on the ISS can provide.

The printer would be the first 3D printer in microgravity and it will be small enough to fit inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox.

NASA hopes the tools and space parts can be printed for use on the station thus eliminating the need to manufacture and deliver the gear for launch aboard a cargo spacecraft. Flight controllers could upload a CAD file to the space station for printing complex parts. A crew member could then assemble the newly printed parts to build tools, repair broken gear and even assemble nano-satellites.

"We're starting with plastic with this first printer, but we will be moving to metals and other types of materials," Werkheiser said.

During future long-term missions beyond low-Earth orbit a crew will not have the benefit of deliveries from a resupply craft. The new 3-D printing technology could benefit a potential mission to an asteroid or Mars.

"For space station, it will decrease risk, decrease cost, and increase efficiency," Werkheiser said. "For longer-term missions for exploration, this is absolutely critical technology."

Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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