NASA says a 3D printer will be launched into space next year. The printer will provide astronauts with supplies, parts, and tools.
NASA engineers are already using 3D printers to make a number of parts and objects including small satellites. However, they have never used the technology in space.
Officials with NASA say the printers will help reduce costs and free up room on the International Space Station. As reported by BBC, the astronauts can use the printers to make tools and parts as needed.
Engineers with Made in Space are currently designing the printer. CEO Aaron Kemmer says the printer could save lives:
“Imagine an astronaut needing to make a life-or-death repair… Rather than hoping that the necessary parts and tools are on the station already, what if the parts could be 3D printed when they needed them?”
Designing NASA’s 3D printer will be a challenge. The small printer must withstand the force and vibrations of lift-off. It will also need to function effectively and safely in an enclosed space with zero gravity.
The size of the printer is also a consideration. NASA officials expect the finished product to be the size of a microwave. Although the printer will take up precious room, it may free up room as well.
If astronauts can manufacture parts and tools as needed, they will not have to store them on the station.
As reported by Fox News, 3D printers create objects layer by layer. The objects are most often composed of polymer materials. The current materials limit the types of objects that can produced.
Metal powders have been tested as stronger materials. However, they are still in the testing stage. Metals such as titanium and nickel-chromium will produce stronger tools and parts.
NASA’s 3D printer is expected to launch in 2014.
[Image via Fotopedia]