Made in Space Launches Microgravity 3D Printer for International Space Station

(Al Jazeera) Made in Space has partnered with NASA to launch a microgravity 3D printer – and hope that it will soon begin 3D printing parts for the International Space Station. “They’ve got over a billion dollars worth of spare parts being ordered right now to go on the ISS,” says CEO Aaron Kemmer. “And 90 percent of those parts won’t even be used. They just have to be there, in case. So a 3D printer on the ISS – it’s going to be game changing.”

Made in Space had to design the printer to function in the extreme environment of space. “In zero-gravity, things float,” says Made in Space’s Chief Technology Officer, Jason Dunn. “And if things start floating just a tiny bit, all of the sudden your entire print is thrown off, so we had to come up with very unique ways to really control the printing process.”

Three-dimensional printers work almost like a hot-glue gun, depositing layers of warm plastic goo that will harden into an extremely durable material. They’re also experimenting printing with other materials like metal. “Up until now everything that had to go into the space station had to be launched. That was the only way to move things from the surface of earth into space,” says Mike Chen, Made in Space’s Chief Information Officer. “By putting a 3D printer in space we’re really knocking down that first barrier of what it takes to put something in space. By being able to just upload a file, hit print and have what you want in space, on demand, is now accessible to an entire new class of people on this planet.”