After NASA certified that the Made in Space 3D printer is ready to be shot into space to live aboard the ISS they are showing us how it will be used by astronauts.
After passing a battery of tests, including micro-gravity zero-g demonstrations, the new 3D printer will launch to the ISS next year and will be used to experiment whether it is capable of fabricating tools and materials for use in space.
NASA is hoping that these tools can be fabricated in space and thus eliminating the need to get them up there in the first place, saving vital launch costs.
“The 3D printer that we’re going to fly on space station will actually be the first-ever 3D printer in space,” said Niki Werkheiser, NASA Marshall Flight Center’s 3-D print project manager. “It is the first step toward [the 'Star Trek' replicator].”
Once the 3D printer is in space the design for any part that the astronauts need to print can be uploaded to the printer from the Flight Controllers on the ground. A crew member would then print and assemble the new part or use it to repair a piece of equipment.
For this initial mission NASA will be printing plastic parts with the 3D printer but they will progress to printing with metals and other types of materials in future tests.
“For space station, it will decrease risk, decrease cost, and increase efficiency,” Werkheiser explained. “For longer-term missions for exploration, this is absolutely critical technology.”