International Space Station To Get Its Own 3D Printer

Scheduled to arrive late next year for testing, the printer will enable astronauts to make replacement parts quickly and easily, saving money as well as stress.

What's the Latest Development?

Astronauts on board the International Space Station will have a new instrument to test out this time next year: NASA has teamed up with Silicon Valley startup Made in Space to create a 3D printer. The toaster-sized printer will work just like its Earthbound counterparts, manufacturing any number of parts and items from spools of plastic. However, it will also be specially designed to withstand not just the demands of life in space -- including microgravity and varying temperatures -- but the trip up there. It's because of those unique environmental stresses that NASA decided to sidestep existing machines -- ranging from $300 to $500,000 -- in favor of creating something new.

What's the Big Idea?

If tests go well, 3D printing could be a game-changer for future space missions, says Made in Space CEO Aaron Kemmer: "Imagine an astronaut needing to make a life-or-death repair...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?" The development team noted that the technical malfunction that caused the abort of the 1970 Apollo 13 mission would have been fixed in minutes had 3D printing been available.

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