Dec 19, 2014

NASA has emailed a wrench to an astronaut up on the International Space Station.

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.

ISS Commander Barry "Butch" Wilmore holds up the ratcheting socket wrench on the space station (Image Credit: NASA).

NASA's 3D printer was developed with the startup Made In Space, with the purpose to experiment with possibility of manufacturing crucial replacement parts on the station. NASA astronaut Barry "Butch" Wilmore, Expedition 42 commander aboard the International Space Station, installed the Zero­G 3D Printer on Nov. 17 and conducted the first calibration test print. On Nov. 24, ground controllers sent the printer the command to make the first printed part: a faceplate of the extruder's casing. Up to now a total of 21 objects have been printed in space.

When Made In Space overheard Wilmore mentioning the need for a ratcheting socket wrench, they decided to design one and send it up to him.

In a post on Medium, Mike Chen, founder of Made In Space, wrote, "We had overheard ISS Commander Barry Wilmore … mention over the radio that he needed one, so we designed one in CAD and sent it up to him faster than a rocket ever could have."

This is the first object created on the ground and sent digitally to space to meet the needs of an astronaut. "It also marks the end of our first experiment—a sequence of 21 prints that together make up the first tools and objects ever manufactured off the surface of the Earth."

Ground prints of some of the objects that was previously printed in space.

"We will use them to characterize the effects of long-term microgravity on our 3D-printing process, so that we can model and predict the performance of objects that we manufacture in space in the future," Chen wrote in his post.

He also explained how the process worked. First, the part is designed in CAD software and converted into a G-code format for the 3D printer. This file is then sent to NASA using a combination of in-house and NASA software. NASA then transmits it to the space station, by way of the Huntsville Operations Support Center, which links developers and researchers on the ground with their payloads on ISS.

Made in Space designed, transmitted and delivered the wrench to the space station in four hours.

The 3D printer installed in the Microgravity Science Glovebox on the Internatonal Space Station (Image Credit: NASA).

Butch reaches into the Microgravity Science Glovebox to operate the 3D printer (Image Credit: NASA).

"On the ISS this type of technology translates to lower costs for experiments, faster design iteration, and a safer, better experience for the crew members, who can use it to replace broken parts or create new tools on demand," Chen said.

Posted in 3D Printing Company


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Major Tom Cat wrote at 12/23/2014 1:09:39 PM:

I like the idea of 3D printing a "Wench" for Christmas.

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