NASA is ready with its next ambitious mission and this time the space agency is preparing to launch a 3D printer into space.
The 3D printer, which is likely to be launched next year, can be a toaster-sized game changer that aims at reducing the need for astronauts to load up with every tool, spare part or supply they might ever need.
For the first 3D printer in space test slated for fall 2014, NASA had more than a dozen machines to choose from, ranging from USD 300 desktop models to USD 500,000 warehouse builders.
According to the scientists, the printers would serve as a flying factory of infinite designs which will create objects by extruding layer upon layer of plastic from long strands coiled around large spools. Doctors use them to make replacement joints and artists use them to build exquisite jewelry.
Presently, the NASA engineers are 3D printing small satellites that could shoot out of the Space Station and transmit data to earth, as well as replacement parts and rocket pieces that can survive extreme temperatures.
Sharing his excitement, inventor Andrew Filo, who is consulting with NASA on the project, said, “Any time we realize we can 3D print something in space, it’s like Christmas. You can get rid of concepts like rationing, scarce or irreplaceable.”
“If you want to be adaptable, you have to be able to design and manufacture on the fly, and that’s where 3D printing in space comes in,” said Dave Korsmeyer, director of engineering at NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, about 55 kilometres south of San Francisco.