3D Printing Experiment On ISS Could Be Future Of Aeronautic Engineering
May 31, 2013

3D Printing Experiment On ISS Could Be Future Of Aeronautic Engineering

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

NASA has announced ambitious plans to launch equipment for the first 3D microgravity printing experiment on the International Space Station (ISS).

The space agency said it would be partnering with Made in Space Inc. of Mountain View, California to launch the 3D Printing in Zero G Experiment (3D Print). This will be the first device to manufacture parts in space.

"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," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "In the future, perhaps astronauts will be able to print the tools or components they need while in space."

NASA said 3D printing holds tremendous potential for future space exploration. It added that one day the technology could allow an entire spacecraft to be manufactured in space, eliminating design constraints caused by Earth-based launches.

"The president's Advanced Manufacturing Initiative cites additive manufacturing, or '3-D printing,' as one of the key technologies that will keep U.S. companies competitive and maintain world leadership in our new global technology economy," said Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for space technology in Washington. "We're taking that technology to new heights, by working with Made in Space to test 3-D printing aboard the space station. Taking advantage of our orbiting national laboratory, we'll be able to test new manufacturing techniques that benefit our astronauts and America's technology development pipeline."

The technology could work with robotic systems to create tools and habitats needed for human missions to Mars and other planetary destinations. These habitats could be fabricated by robots using printed building blocks that take advantage of in-situ resources, such as soil or minerals.

"The 3-D Print experiment with NASA is a step towards the future," said Aaron Kemmer, CEO of Made in Space. "The ability to 3-D 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."

This is not the first time Made in Space has partnered with NASA. The company also worked with the space agency's Flight Opportunity Program to test its prototype 3D Print additive manufacturing equipment on simulated microgravity flights.

NASA is really pushing for 3D printing technology to take off. The space agency just handed out a $125,000 grant to help one researcher develop his 3D food printer, which could make the first pizza in space. Anjan Contractor is working on a device that would be capable of providing nutritionally-appropriate meals one layer at a time from cartridges of powder and oils. NASA is interested in this technology for its potential use on long-duration missions in space.