NEW YORK: A 3D printer set up onboard the ISS has printed its first object, a side templates part for itself.
The November 25 printout symbols a significant transfer to creation tools in space as opposite to depend on them being sent from Earth, noted ISS 3D project manager Niki Werkheiser.
Approximately the size of a small microwave oven, the 3D printer was designed by Made in Space, a Silicon Valley space manufacturing company, in a partnership with NASA. It arrived at the space station in September as part of a resupply mission and was installed on November 17 by astronaut Barry Wilmore.
The ability to create and tools is critical for a spacecraft on a long mission, such as a trip to Mars, the Moon, or an asteroid. Tools on such missions can break down and need to be replaced.
While some replacement parts can be included on a spacecraft, it is impossible to provide backups for every single tool. A 3D printer would be able to manufacture a replacement for any tool that malfunctions.
Printing a part for itself shows the device is capable of replacing its own parts should they break down.
“It’s the first time ever that we’re talking about transitioning from launching every part we might need in space from Earth, to actually being able to email a file, a design, to space and make that part on demand,” Werkheiser emphasized.
The 3D printer is capable of creating a variety of objects, including replacement tools and even small satellites.
Someday, a printer might even be capable of creating another printer, Werkheiser said.
Next year, scientists will attempt to determine whether the printer functions differently in micro-gravity than it does on Earth. Objects printed on the ISS will be sent back to Earth and compared with those created with an Earth-based counterpart.