3D printing has exploded in popularity over the past year, but until now it hasn't made it to one particular destination: outer space. Just this week NASA launched the first 3D printer into space with hopes that it can be tested on the International Space Station. If successful, these tests could pave the way for a permanent 3D printer in space that would allow crew members to produce new parts on demand. We wanted to explore a little bit why NASA wanted to launch this program and what the challenges have been along the way.
taken from: Huffington Post
3D Printing In Zero-G Technology
Back in 2013, NASA launched a formal initiative to test 3D printing in space, specifically called, "3D Printing In Zero-G Technology Demonstration," which has the specific intention of attempting to use 3D printing technology in space without some of the usual consequences of the technology. They partnered with the company Made in Space, giving them a grant of nearly $825,000 to find ways of 3D printing in zero gravity and finding ways to reduce the output of chemicals that would affect the air supply in space.
"There are two main categories of problems,” Brad Kohlenberg, a Business Development Engineer at the company told Forbes. “First is just making work. Second is making it safe in a closed loop environment.”
With these initial rounds of tests, the company hopes to create "test coupons," which are geometric figures that are used to make sure the printer is working correctly. They are also used to make sure the printed plastic and other materials themselves can withstand both zero gravity and the g-force pressure that is unique to a closed space environment.
taken from: Forbes
A Look to the Future
The use of 3D printers in space could be valuable for a number of reasons but the most important is for creating an on-demand print shop in space. Why is this so valuable? Though there are few manned deep-space missions currently in progress, one of the biggest limitations of these lengthy missions is possible breakdowns of space craft. However, when a craft is deep in space, it is difficult to repair these components and impossible to send out new parts.
This is where 3D printing comes in. Imagine if astronauts has a 3D printer ready at any moment to produce a number of different parts. This would enable quicker and more efficient repairs to be made, extending the success of missions. At the same time, the 3D printer could also be used to print parts and conduct tests on new material processes in the most extreme environments, opening up future innovations in the manufacturing world. They could even create new structures that do not exist on Earth.
taken from: Forbes
Though it's too early to tell if this Made in Space printer will be successful in space, it's clear the technology has the power to revolutionize the commercial printing industry in space. Even if these early tests are unsuccessful, it shows NASA is willing to take risks with one of the most exciting technologies on the market today. In 2014, moving to space seems to be one of the best ways to take 3D printing to its limits.
Feel free to weigh in below on your thoughts about 3D printing in space, or share any other exciting applications you can think of for this technology.