Printers that output 3D objects are all the rage. And now astronauts in space plan to use them for on-board repairs.
A new 3D printer by California-based startup Made in Space, in cooperation with NASA, has just passed a round of in-depth trials. It is now NASA-certified and can officially make its way to the International Space Station in August. The certification trials, held at the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, were completed months ahead of schedule and basically verified that the device meets all requirements and is capable of boarding the orbiting station.
A marketing manager for Made in Space told 3Dprint.com that the ability to 3D print small satellite components in space, as opposed to having them made on Earth and launched into space, is a very appealing idea to NASA. Additive manufacturing, commonly referred to as 3D printing in space, is more cost effective, and it means more flexibility for astronauts. It might also enable the creation of tools and other hardware needed for on-board repairs.
"The ability to create necessary items on-demand will reduce the need to launch all parts and redundancies from Earth, saving time, money and payload space aboard rockets. The presence of a 3D printer onboard will also allow astronauts a tool to create solutions to unforeseen situations," announced Made in Space in a press release on Monday.
Before all that however, astronauts on the International Space Station will need to test the 3D printer in a microgravity environment. Once that demonstration concludes, Made In Space will help NASA build a permanent Additive Manufacturing Facility on the Space Station that could build objects in larger volume.