If everything goes well, NASA is going to make history by launching the first 3D printer into space in 2014.
The successful launch will ensure that astronauts are able to manufacture tools and spare parts in zero gravity. Additionally, this will reduce the expenses involved in astronomical missions into space. The printer will be as small in size as a normal toaster.
The 3D printer will contain innumerable designs as it will use the same technology as artists (for building exquisite jewellery) and doctors (for making replacement joints). 3D printing is also known as additive manufacturing. It builds up objects one layer after another, using polymer materials.
Engineers at NASA are in the process of producing 3D print-outs of small satellites which will be able to transmit data from space stations to earth. Astronauts at Apollo 13 in 1970 had to make a carbon dioxide filter with plastic bags and gaffer tapes. If 3D printer happens, such problems in space can be solved within minutes. NASA was successful in testing a metal rocket component made by a 3D printer in August.
The first test in space with a 3D printer is likely to take place in fall 2014. NASA has about a dozen choices to select from. There are $300 desktop printers as well as $500,000 warehouse builders. On the contrary, the fact is that all those machines were made to be used on Earth. There are certain obstacles which these machines must overcome.
The obstacles include microgravity, variable air pressures, differing temperature and limited power. That is why Made In Space, a start-up company from Silicon Valley, was summoned by NASA for building a more suitable machine for the mission.
Andrew Filo said that the idea of rationing can be forgotten if 3D printing worked in space. Mr Filo is an inventor who is a consultant at NASA on the 3D printing project. He compared the occasion of being able to create 3D prints in space with Christmas.