Made in Space, a group of 3D printing experts, space veterans, and young entrepreneurs with the goal of bringing 3D printing to space has scored a contract to build a zero-gravity-compatible 3D printer for NASA. The team has already been working on microgravity 3D printing tests for the space agency and now they'll be creating a 3D printer for use on the International Space Station starting next fall -- the first device to manufacture parts in space.
Over the next year, the group will carry out the 3D Printing in Zero-G Experiment in order to ready a printer for a flight to the ISS. According to Made in Space, the experiment aims to:
Provide valuable scientific foundation for future additive manufacturing in space.
Demonstrate the long-term effects of microgravity on 3D printing.
Demonstrate the end-to-end use case of a 3D printer in the microgravity environment by building useful components.
Fly as a risk reduction and feedback development for the production version Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) to be flown at a later date, which will enable multiple entities to print parts in space.
"The 3-D Print experiment with NASA is a step towards the future," said Aaron Kemmer, CEO of Made in Space. "The ability to 3-D 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 applications for 3D printing in space are endless and could drive space exploration by allowing on-demand manufacturing of objects like tools and habitats needed for human missions, housing and laboratories could be built by robots using printed building blocks that take advantage of available soils and minerals and astronauts on long-duration space missions also could print and recycle tools as they are needed, saving mass, volume and resources. 3D printers could even eventually print small CubeSat satellites for deployment.
NASA has already been testing 3D printing using moon rock to see if one day astronauts could manufacture tools and replacement parts from available materials on the moon or even Mars.