NASA sees a future in which 3D printers escape our atmosphere are used to help astronauts on missions further into space where there is limited cargo space for equipment and resources.
The duration of current manned space missions are hampered by the amount of equipment and resources that can be fired on a rocket from the ground up into orbit and beyond. Simply put, it’s very expensive to get the large amount of stuff into space that will be needed for missions to Mars or to an asteroid. It’s a lot cheaper to send up a 3D printer and materials and then print out whatever tools and equipment you need once in space.
To explore the feasibility of 3D printer technology for this task NASA and Made in Space Inc have developed the world’s first 3D printer that can operate in zero-gravity.
“As NASA ventures further into space, whether redirecting an asteroid or sending humans to Mars, we’ll need transformative technology to reduce cargo weight and volume. In the future, perhaps astronauts will be able to print the tools or components they need while in space.”, commented NASA administrator Charles Bolden.
Made in Space have already tested their 3D printer in a zero-gravity environment aboard a flight on the NASA DC-9 aircraft, dubbed The Vomit Rocket, which is used for astronaut training as it can simulate low-gravity.
“The 3-D Print experiment with NASA is a step towards the future,” said Aaron Kemmer, CEO of Made in Space. “The ability to 3D 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.”
After the 3D printer is certified for use in space in 2014 it will be transported aboard an American commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS). While NASA is happy to experiment with 3D printing in Earth orbit there are some who have plans for grander projects, such as 3D printing on the moon.