International Space Station To Use 3D Printers At Zero Gravity In Space

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By Afza Fathima | September 4, 2014 3:08 PM EST

National Aeronautic and Space Administration is going to fly into space the first 3D printer and it has high hopes for the test run of the device on the International Space Station.

Reuters
An artist's conception shows what NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed, vast Martian glaciers of water ice under protective blankets of rocky debris at much lower latitudes than any ice previously identified on the Red Planet. Scientists analyzed data from the spacecraft's ground-penetrating radar and report in the November 21, 2008 issue of the journal Science that buried glaciers extend for dozens of miles from edges of mountains or cliffs.

According to Space.com, the printer is scheduled to be launched on Sep. 19 on Dragon cargo capsule of SpaceX. NASA officials said that the device could help in laying the foundation for in-space manufacturing capabilities. The end result could lead to cheaper and more efficient missions to faraway destinations as it relies less on resupply from the Earth.

Manager of NASA's '3-D Printing in Zero-G' in Alabama, Niki Werkheiser, said that the on-demand capability will lead to the revolution of the constrained supply chain model that is limited currently and will be important for exploration missions.

Collaboration between NASA and Made in Space, a California-based startup, the 3D Printing in Zero G, was given a heads up for flight in the month of April after a series of tests. 

3D printers uses a technique called extrusion additive manufacturing that helps build objects out of metal, plastic and other materials. NASA is hoping that the device works normally in space as well, demonstrating that it can produce high-quality parts in both, space and Earth. 

NASA astronaut, T.J. Creamer, who lived in the space station from December 2009 to June 2010, said that he remembers the tip of a tool breaking off during a mission. He said that he had to wait for the next shuttle to bring him a new one, but not the new device could just print it, in case of such issues.

Researchers have said that the printer would take about 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the object, to print something in space. 

Werkheiser explained that they could now have a part designed on the ground printed in space within a span of an hour or two from the beginning to the end.

The principal investigator for 3D printing at Marshall, Ken Cooper, said that NASA is doing a good job at planning for component failures and contingencies but there cold always be a potential for unknown scenarios that could not be thought ahead of time. He continued that the 3D printer in space could help in such situations. 

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(Photo: Reuters / NASA/ Handout)
An artist's conception shows what NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed, vast Martian glaciers of water ice under protective blankets of rocky debris at much lower latitudes than any ice previously identified on the Red Planet. Scientists analyzed data from the spacecraft's ground-penetrating radar and report in the November 21, 2008 issue of the journal Science that buried glaciers extend for dozens of miles from edges of mountains or cliffs.
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