3D Printing

First zero-gravity 3D printer heads to International Space Station

The Made In Space Zero-G printer is being launched to the International Space Station
The Made In Space Zero-G printer is being launched to the International Space Station
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The Made In Space Zero-G printer is being launched to the International Space Station
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The Made In Space Zero-G printer is being launched to the International Space Station
The Zero-G printer will be used to print parts for the International Space Station and for research about 3D printing in microgravity
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The Zero-G printer will be used to print parts for the International Space Station and for research about 3D printing in microgravity
Made In Space says that the Zero-G is the first 3D printer designed to operate in zero gravity and that it has carried out over 30,000 hours of testing
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Made In Space says that the Zero-G is the first 3D printer designed to operate in zero gravity and that it has carried out over 30,000 hours of testing

3D printing is revolutionizing the way we manufacturer products in all sorts of industries, including retail and automotive. Now, a firm is looking to take 3D printing into space, literally. Made In Space has created a Zero-G 3D printer that will launch to the International Space Station tomorrow.

Made In Space was founded in 2010 and has been working towards certification for its Zero-G 3D printer. The company says that the Zero-G is the first 3D printer designed to operate in zero gravity and that it has carried out over 30,000 hours of testing, including more than 400 microgravity parabola flights aboard a modified Boeing 727.

The Zero-G printer will be used to print parts for the International Space Station and for research about 3D printing in microgravity
The Zero-G printer will be used to print parts for the International Space Station and for research about 3D printing in microgravity

The Zero-G is an extrusion printer that builds up layers of hot liquefied acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic to create an object. A number of factors had to be taken in consideration for designing it to work in a zero-gravity environment. Components that might previously have been even partly held in place by gravity had to be redesigned, thermal processes had to be recalculated and the layering process had to be reconsidered. In addition, the printer had to be built with "extreme safety precautions" in mind.

Made In Space states that by manufacturing items in space instead of launching them from Earth, our development in space can be accelerated and broadened. On a practical level, the cost of launching a spacecraft with countless spare parts onboard could be dramatically reduced, with NASA estimating that 30 percent of parts on the ISS could be 3D printed. In addition, many of the parts could be lighter through not having to withstand Earth's gravity prior to launch and the extreme g-forces during launch. For astronauts, meanwhile, the potential to print a component rather than hope that a spare part is available could be the difference between life and death.

Made In Space says that the Zero-G is the first 3D printer designed to operate in zero gravity and that it has carried out over 30,000 hours of testing
Made In Space says that the Zero-G is the first 3D printer designed to operate in zero gravity and that it has carried out over 30,000 hours of testing

"Everything that has ever been built for space has been built on the ground," says Made In Space CEO Aaron Kemmer. "Tremendous amounts of money and time have been spent to place even the simplest of items in space to aid exploration and development. This new capability will fundamentally change how the supply and development of space missions is looked at."

The Zero-G printer will be used by NASA to build parts and tools for the ISS, to research the long-term effects of microgravity on 3D printing, and to develop an understanding of the role that 3D printing can play in the future of space exploration. The printer is planned for launch aboard a rocket from Cape Canaveral at at 2:14 am local time on Saturday. A second Made In Space 3D printer is planned for full-time installation on the ISS from 2015.

The video below provides an overview of the Made In Space Zero-G printer project.

Source: Made In Space

Made In Space and CASIS: Launch world's first 3D printer to space

4 comments
zevulon
while the amount of weight savings from something like this would be minimal rather than dramatic as claimed. the real benefit is expanded flexibility in missions and possibily a capability to improvise in unexpected as well as emergency situations. for example, darpa runs a program for building a spacecraft with the capability to salvage and scavenge from existing abandoned or junked orbital sattelites. as silly as this sounds to most people, the heaviest craft ever sent to orbit weighing over a couple tons is a european climate observing sattelite the was launched succesfully into orbit, and experienced a rapid total failure/malfunction. it has been orbiting for years, a scrap heap of worth over 10,000 dollars per orbital pound of material. furthermore, it has a massive solar array that could be extremely valuable if it could be salvaged. highly complex missions such as these, which don't even come close to approaching the complexity of mining an asteroid, are not even close to being possible yet . there are many reasons. one of them is the inability to reuse reclaimed materials once found. a 3d printer could help provide teh appropriate parts to ensure a massive custom solar array can be reoutfitted for use on a totally new an incompatible truss system of a newer craft, or even the existing iss.
Bob Flint
I agree with Zevulon, no weight saving at all since both the raw material and equipment must be sent into space. The intention is to 3D print and manufacture in space is a big challenge just trying to determine which type of material you may need. Furthermore, what about the wasted material? Can it be repurposed, reground or better yet harvest the space junk for raw material.
Gavin Roe
most of the printers Ive seen us heat to transform the plastic into a part, I don't think additional heat on board the space station is practical and if it is mad outside the station will these plastics even set ?
Bryan Paschke
The above commenters are missing the point. Yes, it'll be heavier PER PART, but the savings will come in not having to stock 1000 parts, just enough plastic to print out the parts as needed. You don't usually need 10 widgets and 20 doodads, but you don't know if you'll need zero or 100 and there's no way to tell, so we'd better have 50 of each on hand just in case...or enough plastic to print 100 widgets or doodads or thingies and print out what you need. Further, there's no reason why you can't recycle themoplastics...a few hobbyists are recycling their failed prints back into filament here on the ground, no reason why they can't do so up there as well.
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