The International Space Station’s newly-installed 3D printer made history on Tuesday by manufacturing the first object ever 3D printed in space.
NASA’s 3D printer was developed under a contract with the startup Made In Space, which was founded in 2010. The purpose of the 3D printer is to experiment with the possibility of manufacturing crucial replacement parts on on the station, foregoing the expense of shipping them via rocket.
“This first print is the initial step toward providing an on-demand machine shop capability away from Earth,” said NASA’s Niki Werkheiser, project manager for the International Space Station 3-D Printer, in a press release.
The printer was delivered to the space station in September via a Space X Dragon capsule. It was installed on the station on November 17, and the first in a series of calibration prints was made. More calibration prints followed over the next few days.
On Tuesday, November 25, the first actual part was manufactured by the 3D-printer – a faceplate for a printhead extruder on the printer itself. The teams at NASA and Made In Space are currently looking at the data from the part to see how it conforms to expectations.
“As we print more parts we’ll be able to learn whether some of the effects we are seeing are caused by microgravity or just part of the normal fine-tuning process for printing. When we get the parts back on Earth, we’ll be able to do a more detailed analysis to find out how they compare to parts printed on Earth,” Werkheiser said in the release.
More importantly, this demonstrates that Made In Space’s printer works – which means that 3D printing could become an important part of the research being conducted on board the International Space Station, both for NASA and the commercial space industry.
“This project demonstrates the basic fundamentals of useful manufacturing in space. The results of this experiment will serve as a stepping stone for significant future capabilities that will allow for the reduction of spare parts and mass on a spacecraft, which will change exploration mission architectures for the better,” Made In Space’s Mike Snyder said in a statement.
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