NASA engineers are preparing to launch a 3D printer, oven or toaster-sized depending on differing reports, able to operate in space.
The printer would have space-saving benefits, and mean that tools and equipment would not need to be carried on board.
“Any time we realise we can 3-D print something in space, it’s like Christmas,” a consultant for NASA, Andrew Filo, told AP.
“You can get rid of concepts like rationing, scarce or irreplaceable.”
A device able to be used in space would have to tolerate things such as harsh temperatures, vibrations from launch, and a lack of gravity.
The first test would be in autumn (beginning in September in North America) 2014, according to the BBC.
In terms of repairs that additive manufacturing in space might be able to assist with, Made In Space, contracted by NASA for the project, mentioned the Apollo 13 voyage in 1970, where astronauts had to fix a carbon dioxide filter using things such as gaffer tape and a plastic bag.
“Imagine an astronaut needing to make a life-or-death repair on the International Space Station,” said Aaron Kemmer, MIS’s CEO.
“If you want to be adaptable, you have to be able to design and manufacture on the fly, and that’s where 3D printing in space comes in.”.