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NASA Set To Launch The First 3D Printer Into Space Next Year
September 30, 2013
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During the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission in 1970, astronauts Jack Swigert and Jim Lovell had to jury-rig a device they called "the mailbox" to get their carbon dioxide scrubbing system to work. Their materials: cardboard, a plastic bag and some duct tape. If a new NASA program is successul, astronauts will soon have access to a 3D printer instead to manufacture whatever tool or part they need.

The U.S. space agency is planning on sending its first 3D printer into orbit on a mission next year, the BBC reports. The pilot project will see the device tested under microgravity conditions on the International Space Station.

"Any time we realize we can 3D-print something in space, it's like Christmas," Andrew Filo, a consultant on the project, told AP. "You can get rid of concepts like rationing, scarce or irreplaceable."

A California startup called Made In Space has been contracted to create the the device, which is about the size of a microwave oven. Like most Earthbound 3D printers, Made In Space's device can "print" out objects of any desired shape by slowly building up layer upon layer of polymers or metals. Unlike conventional 3D printers, however, this one is designed for use in zero-G, and is built to withstand the jolts and vibrations of life aboard a rocket ship.

The Made In Space project is not NASA's first encounter with 3D printing: last month, it tested a rocket fuel injector printed (on Earth) out of nickel-chromium alloy powder, part of an effort to investigate ways of lowering the cost of rocket components.

NASA and Made In Space have not yet decided what will be the first object printed in space. Jason Dunn, the chief technology officer, joked to AP, "We're going to build a Death Star... Then it's all going to be over."

Via BBC

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