A NASA update on putting a 3D printer in space

With all the developments revolving around 3D printing and space, we know you like to be up to speed on the important bits. The subject of getting the first 3D printer in space seemed a tad important to us so we thought you might enjoy this video of NASA Public Affairs Officer Lori Meggs interviewing Niki Werkheiser, 3D print project manager at Marshall Space Flight Center.

Maybe you’re too busy or your boss is looking over your shoulder, but if you couldn’t watch the video, here’s the TL;DR version: NASA is working with the company Made in Space to get the first 3D printer in space on a station. The project is both an experiment to test the feasibility of printing in zero-g and an actual effort to get a commercial 3D print service in space. Of course, the parabolic microgravity tests were successful so theoretically all should go well on the station.

So what’s the point? Oh, but there are so many points! Having a 3D printer on board a space station means broken and lost parts can be replaced, custom tools can be fabricated, as well as simple yet necessary things like sample canisters, and apparently the frames for cube sats (satellites) can be printed too. They’re starting with plastic but the next phase will be metal printing.

But more importantly this is an investment in the future of space exploration. As Werkheiser put it, “For a space station it will decrease risk, decrease cost, and increase efficiency, but for longer term missions, for space exploration, this is absolutely a critical technology.” On missions to Mars that take months and years, it’s impossible to predict what situations will arise and what will break. A 3D printer provides versatile solutions in foreign environments. And all the lessons learned from printing in space will be applied to terrestrial printing, so this is progress for everyone. The first 3D printer will be launched into space on SpaceX 5 next fall, and astronauts have already selected tools and parts that they’d like to be able to print with it.