3D printing is at the cutting edge of technology and it’s scope is not just limited to earth. NASA has recently instructed a company called Made In Space to develop the first ever 3D printer for microgravity, for use on the International Space Station(ISS).
This isn’t the first company to be contracted by NASA for developing the technology for use in space. The company Systems and Material Research Corporation were given a grant by NASA to develop 3D printed food, while the European Space Agency is investigating how to print a moon base.
Yet despite all these advances and developments, there is still one problem; how to use 3D printing technology in space. This is where the company Made In Space come in. They comprise of a team of experts, originally put together at Singularity University, NASA Ames. Their skills cover the fields of 3D printing, spaceflight and entrepreneurs. Included is the former astronaut Dan Barry and President of Planetary Resources Chris Lewicki. So far, the team has already started tests in microgravity, with full development set to begin later this year.
Aaron Kemmer, CEO of Made In Space, explained their aim when he said, “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.”
The printer that Made In Space are working on, will have to withstand the unusual environment changes caused by microgravity. To achieve this, the technology uses extrusion additive manufacturing, meaning it uses polymers and other appropriate materials to assemble each object by building it layer by layer.
The benefits of such technology could have a big impact on future missions. At the moment, the ISS is entirely dependent on Earth, with required tools or spare parts having to be shipped to orbit from earth. This limits how far away an outpost can be, not to mention how difficult it is in the event of an emergency.
By having a 3D printer on board, the ISS can print any necessary items and then recycle them, thereby ensuring they always have the correct gear. This will also help save money on resupply missions.
“We’re taking additive manufacturing technology to new heights, by working with Made in Space to test 3D printing aboard the space station,” says NASA’s Associate Administrator for Space Technology Michael Gazarik. “Taking advantage of our orbiting national laboratory, we’ll be able to test new manufacturing techniques that benefit our astronauts and America’s technology development pipeline.”
It is hoped that this technology could go as far as helping make components for living quarters, laboratory facilities and even small satellites. So it makes sense that NASA is keen to get developments underway.
[Image via disrupt3d]