In space, where delivery of items you might need is difficult and square footage is at a premium, 3-D printing seems like a no-brainer. Don't fly up what you need--print it right there! So it's great that NASA has officially contracted a semi-in-house company, Made in Space, to build a zero-gravity 3-D printer for use off-world.
Made in Space was founded in 2010 at NASA Ames by a bunch of 3-D printing veterans and entrepreneurs, with the express aim of launching a 3-D printer into space. It's not an easy proposition, though; terrestrial 3-D printers like the Makerbot, which seems about the same size as the prototypes Made in Space is working with, uses Earth's gravity to drip lines of plastic into its shapes.
Made in Space's stated goals include:
- Provide valuable scientific foundation for future additive manufacturing in space.
- Demonstrate the long-term effects of microgravity on 3D printing.
- Demonstrate the end-to-end use case of a 3D printer in the microgravity environment by building useful components.
3-D printing could be a key tool in space; you never know exactly what you'll need, and it's ridiculously expensive, difficult, and time-consuming to fly up tools or spare parts to the International Space Station or elsewhere. And Made in Space, among others (like Enrico Dini of D-Shape), is also researching the possibility of using materials that are found in space, like moon dust, as the key base material in 3-D printing. Eventually 3-D printers might even be used to print anything from satellites to houses.
Read more over at Made in Space's page.
Impregnate printing material with ferric or otherwise magnetic particles. Make the printing base magnetic. Boom. Space printer.
"...Earth's gravity to drip lines of plastic into its shapes."
Really? C'mon Popular Science, you're slipping! If you don't know the reason why we don't already do something, please don't make something up! The plastic is extruded under high pressure from a nozzle by an extruder motor.
The truth is, current 3D printers require no modifications whatsoever to print in microgravity. Google "makerbot printing upside down" to get an idea.
3D printer that uses a tape doesn't need gravity , which is off the shelf technology .
This is not only about tools, but about everything you could think of. Food, bodyparts, tools and moonbases. All are currently tested and replicated on different 3D printers. The militairy and the US government only wants budgets of NASA to account it for and claim it was developed with the help of NASA, so public space budgets are well spent. Think of piles of material instead of expensive stockpiles of parts all over the world which are now used or unused and are much more expensive to keep up. NASA probably has to even look for extruders who can mine raw material into base material for printers to even further reduce the transports and stockpiles. What is also importent is the speed of the printers. You don't want to wait months to print parts. You want it done in minutes.
We're a step ahead in Europe :). We just sell horsemeat and call it beef.
I think this development should be done by private companies which are already doing this. The testmoney should be accounted for on budgets of one government agency and not every agency.
I'm surprised it took this long. This would be crucial in space for fabricating parts. Think of how much storage it would likely free up simply being able to fabricate all those little (and some not so little) parts that frequently break.
Great pic! ( from the mfr's site I think)
Woman looks like she's ready to yell "party over here!"
Guy with the headband could be meditating.
Not sure about the other two