3D printing as we have seen by now is quickly becoming the next best thing since the dot-matrix printer and over the last year or so things have been going from strength to strength for the technology as its gone from concept to a high street reality. Not surprisingly, it was only a matter of time before NASA got their hands on the concept and tweaked and tuned it for use in their space stations.
The specially made printer has had to go through far more than a couple of test prints in order to get the thumbs up from the engineers. As well as being able to print intricate spare parts or tools for use in space, the printer will also need to withstand the force and vibrations of lift-off from earth and then have to be able to operate safely within a space station environment. On top of all this, some of the specially designed printers will also be able to product components from titanium and nickel-chromium powers which are laser melted together as they are produced.
When launched in 2014, the printers will be installed in to the ISS (International Space Station) and the final goal is for an astronaut to be able to produce a spare tool or component in an emergency without the need to fashion something together as was famously seen during the Apollo 13 mission in 1970 where a carbon dioxide filter had to be made from items including a manual cover, hose and gaffer tape.
Not only does this mean that less spare parts will need to be taken up to the station during take off – saving space, but also the mission costs could be lowered in the long run as well.
Image courtesy of Space.com