Tech Company Builds a 3D Printer That Works in the Vacuum of Space

Wednesday, 16 August 2017 - 9:20PM
Technology
NASA
Wednesday, 16 August 2017 - 9:20PM
Tech Company Builds a 3D Printer That Works in the Vacuum of Space
NASA
3D printing is going to be a big part of space travel. Imagine if, instead of needing to take endless just-in-case resources and spare parts for a long haul space flight, astronauts could just print what they need, when they need it, as simply as possible.

Or, even if you're not going far from home, having the convenience of being able to press a button and assemble parts for a telescope or other tool (or giant sunglasses because why not?), right there, immediately where they're needed.

The problem with this is space - both the issue of finding a corner of a spaceship's internal area to place a 3D printer, and the fact that these devices can't be stored externally on spaceships' hulls for convenience because, hey, you try creating something from scratch while hanging out in the total vacuum of space without protection.

Currently the ISS has a pair of 3D printers that are both, of necessity, kept on the inside of the station, which may not always be the most convenient place for parts to be printed. Thankfully, though, the California-based company Made in Space has successfully completed tests on a 3D printer that's able to function in a vacuum, as well as while enduring the enormous temperature fluctuations that occur in outer space.




A recent test saw the team's printer "extended structures" in space-like environments. In the field, the Made in Space printer will also be aided by a mechanical robotic arm that can assemble pieces of delicate equipment the moment they leave the printer, meaning that astronauts will be able to press a few buttons and instantly have new, fresh tools at their disposal that have been specially printed and assembled outside of the spacecraft.

According to Made in Space CEO Andrew Rush:

Opening quote
"This is an important milestone, because it means that we can now adaptively and on demand manufacture things in space. We have significantly de-risked that technology."
Closing quote


This is a huge step forward not just for convenience when conducting experiments in space, but also in terms of the long-term efficacy of interstellar flight. We're drawing towards a point where, to a certain extent, spacecraft may be self-sustaining and self-repairing, as well as able to provide for astronauts' varied needs with ease.

We're already at the point where, when necessary, NASA can email plans for specific equipment to the ISS to be printed for use. Soon, a lot of the assembly of space tools will be done without humans needing to get involved at all. Although here's hoping NASA keeps their WiFi password secure so that teenagers don't start emailing 3D printed butts to the ISS.

In order words, we're drawing closer and closer to the Replicator from Star Trek, and for our planet's astronauts, that can only be a good thing.
Science
Space
Technology
NASA
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