The first 3D printer that is to be shot into space has passed a series of microgravity flight tests. NASA and Made in Space have developed the machine so that it can print in zero-gravity aboard the International Space Station.
Three prototype versions of the 3D printer we put through their paces aboard parabolic airplane flights that simulate periods of microgravity. In these flights a specially modified plane climbs and then dives, just like a roller coaster ride, 32 times in a two-hour ride and the 3D printer is secured inside the plane and monitored for hardware and printing performance.
“Today, we demonstrated that our 3-D printers can print in microgravity,” Made in Space strategic officer Mike Chen said after the successful test. “Next year, we will demonstrate that they can print on the International Space Station.”
Made in Space have already gone through similar zero-g flights during 2011 which helped them design the latest prototypes. The latest tests were undertaken as part of NASA’s Flight Opportunity Program which were aboard a 727 operated by the Zero-G Corp.
The machine is expected to be launched to the ISS in August 2014 and will be used to test the possibility of 3D printers being used to make living in space cheaper and easier. NASA hopes that the costs associated with getting equipment into space will be reduced as most of it can be made with a 3D printer and raw materials.
“The 3-D printer we’re developing for the ISS is all about enabling astronauts today to be less dependent on Earth,” Noah Paul-Gin, Made in Space’s microgravity experiment lead, said in a statement. “The version that will arrive on the ISS next year has the capability of building an estimated 30 percent of the spare parts on the station, as well as various objects such as specialty tools and experiment upgrades.”