NASA 3D printer: The next revolution in space?

NASA 3D printer could be used to make tools and spare parts for the International Space Station by next year, instead of shipping them up from Earth. NASA is working with Made in Space to produce a 3D printer.

By , Space.com

  • close
    Tools and parts made by a 3D printer are displayed at Made in Space in Mountain View, Calif. One of the biggest obstacles to space exploration is that you need to bring everything with you: tools, equipment, spare parts, satellites.
    View Caption

A California-based company that will launch a 3D printer to the International Space Station in 2014 is aiming to change the way space agencies think about how they transport goods to the orbiting outpost. But, using a machine to spit out spare parts for the space station is only the beginning.

Built by the firm Made in Space, Inc., the first 3D printer in space will launch to the space station aboard commercial spaceflight provider SpaceX's Dragon capsule. The mission will largely be a proof-of-concept flight, in which astronauts will use the device to demonstrate its functionality in the microgravity environment, Mike Chen, Made in Space co-founder and chief strategy officer, told an audience at World Maker Faire in Queens here on Sept. 21.

While astronauts will initially use the 3D printer to create spare parts and tools for the space station. Made in Space is hoping "makers" on Earth will get a chance to flex their creativity by coming up with designs for science experiments, innovative projects and artwork.

Recommended: The 20 most fascinating accidental inventions

"Once our printer is there, we're going to be opening it up to the world to print things in space," Chen said, while openly soliciting ideas and encouraging people to contact the company with thoughts.

If all goes well, a permanent version of the 3D printer will be launched to the International Space Station in 2015.

"The paradigm shift that we want everyone to understand is: instead of launching things to space, just print it there," Chen said. "Why would you go through all the energy to build it here and launch it, when you can just build it there?"

Made in Space was founded in 2010 with the mission of broadening access to space. "[I]t's really expensive and difficult to launch things into space, and that puts a real dampening effect on innovation," Chen said.

Having a 3D printing capability on the International Space Station will open up possibilities for the materials that can be produced in orbit, and the types of experiments that can be performed in space.

"Everything that you launch is going to have to withstand up to 9Gs in the rocket and crazy vibrations," Chen said. "Things in space are vastly over-engineered, really, for the first 8 minutes of its existence. Think about what you can do now that you have 3D printing capabilities on orbit. For the first time, we'll be able to design things for space that don't ever have to exist in a gravity environment."

Follow Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow. Follow LiveScience @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on SPACE.com.

Copyright 2013 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Share this story:
 
 
Make a Difference
Inspired? Here are some ways to make a difference on this issue.
Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.
 

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...