NASA wants to test out the 3-D printing technology onboard the International Space Station to find out if the technology could be used to manufacture parts in space.
NASA signed a contract with Made in Space to launch equipment for the first 3-D microgravity printing experiment to the ISS sometime next year. If successful, the 3-D Printing in Zero G Experiment (3-D Print) will be the first device to manufacture parts in space. 3-D Print will use extrusion additive manufacturing, which builds objects, layer by layer, out of polymers and other materials.
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NASA has some ambitious ideas when it comes to 3D printing saying: "One day, 3-D printing may allow an entire spacecraft to be manufactured in space, eliminating design constraints caused by the challenges and mass constraints of launching from Earth. This same technology may help revolutionize American manufacturing and benefit U.S. industries."
"In addition to manufacturing spacecraft designs in orbit, 3-D printers also could work with robotic systems to create tools and habitats needed for human missions to Mars and other planetary destinations. Housing and laboratories could be fabricated by robots using printed building blocks that take advantage of in-situ resources, such as soil or minerals. Astronauts on long-duration space missions also could print and recycle tools as they are needed, saving mass, volume and resources," NASA stated.
"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 during a recent tour of the agency's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. "In the future, perhaps astronauts will be able to print the tools or components they need while in space."
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