18th May 2013
The first 3D printer in space
A new company plans to deliver the first 3D printer into space, enabling astronauts to use this revolutionary new manufacturing process.
Made in Space was established in 2010 by alumni of the Singularity University, a non-profit institution whose founders include Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis. For the past three years, they have been working to perfect 3D printers capable of functioning in microgravity. According to Chief Technology Officer, Jason Dunn, the company has flown more than 400 reduced gravity aircraft flights to test the machines.
Having recently been awarded a contract with NASA, the team will be sending their first 3D printer into space next year aboard a SpaceX Dragon freighter, for use on board the International Space Station (ISS). This will enable astronauts to print parts and replacement components in orbit instead of having to ship them up from Earth, saving time and money. Experiments will also demonstrate the long-term effects of microgravity on 3D printing, as well as providing a valuable scientific foundation for future additive manufacturing in space.
Aaron Kemmer, CEO: "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."
In a separate development, Washington State University researchers last year demonstrated a way of using Moon rock to print objects. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future, spacecraft really will have "replicator"-style devices like those featured in Star Trek...