You knew it would happen. NASA is planning to send a 3-D printer aboard the International Space Station next year, The Guardian reports.
3-D printers' ability to custom-make parts would be invaluable for repairs in space. But first, engineers need to make a 3-D printer that works in zero gravity.
Challenges include that thermal properties are different in zero gravity, Jason Dunn, who co-founded Made in Space to develop the technology, told The Guardian. In addition, each of the printers' intricate parts needs to stay in its correct place without the help of gravity.
So far, Made in Space's printer has passed testing in a micro-gravity environment created on a modified Boeing 727, The Guardian reports.
NASA also recently performed more tests of rocket engine injectors made by 3-D printers, Space.com reports. Popular Science previously reported on 3-D printed injector tests done at the Glenn Research Center in Ohio. These later tests, conducted at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, exposed printed injectors to temperatures near 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit. They held up as well as traditionally built injectors.
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How exactly are thermal properties different in zero-G? At vacuum you have some different properties, but I can't think of any in the absence of gravity.
I don't know if this would be a stupid idea or not, but it sounds like it could be something to test. If they used a specially formulated mixture of a platic filament with grinded up magnetic material in it, it could possibly cause the items created with the 3D printer to stay together long enough to cool down and harden. All that would have to be changed on the 3D printer is a hotend made of a non-magnetic material so the heated material doesn't get stuck.
Maybe I'm running behind but what is the raw material for 3D printing? Let's say the "ink".