3-D printing heads to outer space

3-D printing is promising a manufacturing revolution—one that is now moving to outer space. The Associated Press is reporting that NASA is sending a printer to the International Space Station that could enable astronauts to build spare parts. And the 3-D printing initiative holds promise beyond the ISS.

The AP quotes Jeff Sheehy, NASA's senior technologist, as saying, “If we're really going to set up shop on Mars, we have to do this. We really can't afford to bring everything we need for an indefinite amount of time. We'll need to get to the point where we can make things that we need as we go.”

The printer, dubbed Zero-G, is manufactured by Made in Space, which describes it as the first 3-D printer that can operate in zero gravity. And perhaps you've heard of off-shored manufacturing? Made in Space says its Zero-G printer heralds “the era of off-world manufacturing.” The initial version of Zero-G, the company says, “…will serve as a test bed for understanding the long-term effects of microgravity on 3D printing, and how it can enable the future of space exploration.”

The AP quotes Sheehy as saying that when parts made by Zero-G are returned to earth, they will be “pulled and twisted and peeled and subjected to a lot of tests to determine the quality of the parts” to ensure that they have the durability of traditional parts.

See related article “3-D printing: from toys to exoskeletons.”

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