NASA partners with Made in Space to create first space-bound 3D printer

Jun 5, 2013

We've heard ideas about NASA using 3D printers to create parts on-the-fly needed to repair space craft when they're out on missions, and not too long ago the space agency provided a grant to develop a 3D printer that produces food. Following in line with this, NASA has officially partnered with Made in Space to develop a printer for space.

The goal is to launch the first ever 3D printer in space next year, allowing devices and parts to be manufactured in a zero-gravity environment. Officially called the 3D Printing in Zero-G Experiment, the project will result in a custom 3D printer made specifically for the space agency. The goal is to one day allow space missions to be almost self-sufficient.

Not only will the 3D printer allow parts to be manufactured in space, it will also facilitate the creation of tools needed to repair damaged space craft, and to resupply materials that are used up during the course of the missions. One example is the various projects currently in place to put humans on Mars - sending a resupply of consumable items to the planet would take quite a while, making 3D printing a better option.

Made in Space's CEO Aaron Kemmer said: "The 3D printing experiment with NASA is a step towards the future. 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 coupons, and will then build a broad range of parts, such as tools and science equipment."

Not only that, but Made in Space also says that at some point the 3D printing could be sophisticated enough to allow for the creation of small satellites known as CubeSats. Testing for 3D printing in a zero-gravity environment began back in 2011, but more tests are being performed this year. As the project reaches its first big stage, the 3D printer will be deployed to the space station.

The launch to the International Space Station will take place in 2014, and will help verify whether the data from current and past experiments is valid, or needs to be adjusted. Said NASA: "We’re taking additive manufacturing technology to new heights, by working with Made in Space to test 3D printing aboard the space station."

SOURCE: Made in Space

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