NASA To Launch First 3D Printer Into Space
Engineers hope the new technology will help astronauts make life-or-death repairs on the International Space Station.
The 3D printer will be tested in space next year
NASA is preparing to send a 3D printer to the International Space Station next year after successfully testing the new technology.
Although the launch in 2014 is for testing purposes, the space agency hopes that one day the technique will manufacture tools, replacement parts and miniature satellites.
The process could even be used to print food for astronauts completing long-haul missions into outer space.
The technology, provided by space manufacturing company Made in Space, has been tested in zero-gravity conditions to ensure it can withstand vibrations and operate in the hostile environment of space.
Currently all missions are reliant on supplies and equipment from Earth but 3D printing could offer self-sustainable missions.
Aaron Kemmer, Made in Space CEO, said: "Imagine an astronaut needing to make a life-or-death repair on the International Space Station.
"Rather than hoping that the necessary parts and tools are on the station already, what if the parts could be 3D printed when they needed them?"
Additive manufacturing, as 3D printing is also known, works by creating layer-upon-layer of material to build a three-dimensional object.
Dave Korsmeyer, director of engineering at Nasa's Ames Research Centre, said: "If you want to be adaptable, you have to be able to design and manufacture on the fly, and that's where 3D printing in space comes in."