3D printer to be sent to International Space Station

NASA aims to have 3D printers designed by Made In Space operating on the International Space Station in June 2014.

The Telegraph and others report that plastic parts will eventually be created on-demand, fulfilling roles like printing up broken parts.

"As you might imagine on ISS, whatever they have available in orbit is what they have to use,” said Nasa's Marshall Space Flight Centre’s Niki Werkheiser, according to the Telegraph.

"Like they do on the ground, parts get broken or lost and they have to wait for replacement parts or we have to launch multiple spares.

The concept is often compared to the replicator machine in Star Trek.

According to an interview with Tech Crunch, Made In Space tried testing regular additive manufacturing machines in zero gravity in 2011, but they could not cope with low gravity. Other issues existed including withstanding the force of launch and NASA’s requirements on what can be transported to the International Space Station.

“These are just some of the developments we’ve needed to make,” the company told Tech Crunch

“It’s taken us thousands of pages of internal documentation just to describe the engineering work we’ve done to get our printer ready for space.”

Made In Space, which calls itself The World’s First Additive Manufacturing for Space Company,was founded in 2010 and is based in NASA’s research park, near the Californian city of San Jose.

“When we start going out to Mars and back to the moon and going to asteroids, it’s going to be even more important that astronauts have printers with them,” the company’s co-founder has said.

Image: http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Replicator