Science takes a considerable leap forward as 3D printing may have just been made possible off the face of the Earth with the most recent experiment performed by NASA, in cooperation with the 3D printer developing company Made in Space.
Back when 3D printing was first invented, it was a scientific awe and opened a multitude of paths towards industrial development. Later on, what was once a theme found in science fiction only, can now be acquired for even less than $1.000 and put to personal use in anyone’s household.
The greatest issue with space travel is known to be the limited amount of resources and necessary materials. If a space station or shuttle lacks replacement parts, the only choice until now has been sending them up via a rocket – a very time consuming and money wasting mission. The revelation of putting 3D printing to use when off-land may very well be the answer that will make way for longer and safer expeditions in our solar system.
All the concerns previously expressed may come to a stop with the encouraging news we received from the International Space Station (ISS). A modified, high-end Made in Space 3D printer has been recently delivered to the space station and successfully printed out its first experiment – a part for the printer itself. While the whole 3D printing process is a bit of a wonder when done on Earth, repeating it in a zero-gravity scenario is particularly tricky. There are numerous factors to take into account when we’re talking 3D printing on a space station, far away from the safety of gravity: the amount and way the construction material is released, how to deal with the fumes created in the process or how to control the layering when there’s no gravitational force on your side.
The resulting casing following the experiment presents adequate properties but a series of tests and analysis will be performed in the near future, after the 3D printer on the ISS will be transported back to Earth. Several more items are planned to be printed on the space station, then – using the same printing device – remade on Earth to compare strength, flexibility and resistance between the different versions. The information acquired this way will surely help scientists understand the nature of modifications needed to perfect the technique in outer space and thus providing new possibilities for space travel and humanity’s future in space alike.