NASA Pushing to Send 3D Printer into Space in 2014
NASA is working tirelessly to put a 3D printer in space as soon as by fall 2014. The agency rationalizes the move as a drastically necessarily to cut down the downtime related to the creation and/or replacement of tools and other parts and also vital in aiding research experiments conducted by astronauts.
To realize this vision, NASA is working in partnership with Made in Space, a private firm founded in 2010.
"The future of space exploration will change forever when everything we need for space is built in space. In this future, parts, habitats and structures are not launched and assembled, but instead 3D-printed, layer-by-layer in outer space with additive manufacturing." says Aaron Kemmer, CEO of Made in Space in a note in their website.
According to the Associated Press, Made in Space was hired to come up with the design of a printer that would work in space and withstand tremendous force and pressure from launches.
Kemmer, speaking to AP, described a life-or-death scenario where a 3D printer could create the tools necessary for survival, removing any doubt that the available equipment was already on the ISS. A good example for the need of such solutions, Kemmer pointed, would have been the Apollo 13 mission.
Apollo 13's oxygen tank ruptured causing damage to the service module forcing the crew to abandon their mission and return to Earth. Unable to remove carbon dioxide from the craft, the astronauts had to improvise their own filter, using duct tape, a manual cover and a plastic bag, reports AP. A 3D printer could have created a filter, or the parts needed for the filter, reducing the danger faced by the astronauts.
"Today, 3D printing in space can enable the building of parts on the International Space Station - form science hardware to emergency fixes. In the future, space-based additive manufacturing will enable a variety of game-changing capabilities - from large 1 km+ mega structures that could not be launched to building entire spacecraft from asteroid materials," reads in Made in Space website.