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Era of Additive Manufacturing in Space Is Launched

Posted By Jeff Moad, September 24, 2014 at 3:34 PM, in Category: Transformative Technologies

The role of additive manufacturing in the distributed production of replacement and new parts took a giant leap forward this week with the launch of an unmanned space craft carrying a 3D printer—among other things—to the International Space Station.

The Zero-G 3D printer, designed for operation in space by California start-up Made in Space, will be used by astronauts on the space station to fabricate parts and tools as needed, allowing them to avoid reliance on expensive and infrequent shipments from the Earth’s surface. The device will also be available to researchers wishing to experiment with 3D printers in space.

The 3D printer was transported to the space station—along with 5,000 pounds of other supplies—aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Sunday.

The Zero-G printer was reportedly designed to overcome the challenges inherent in operating in the kind of zero-gravity, confined spaces required on the International Space Station. Made in Space engineers, for example, had to figure out a way to move 3D printing material to the print heads in zero gravity and to contain noxious odors which are normally produced by the devices but are incompatible with the space station environment.

The Zero-G printer is initially expected to produce test objects and small tools. If it successful operating in space, a larger printer, capable of producing larger, more complex objects, is likely to replace it.

Officials at Made in Space say they are also developing a version of the Zero-G 3D printers that will be able to fabricate objects using material found on the lunar and other space surfaces as raw material.

Written by Jeff Moad

Jeff Moad is Research Director and Executive Editor with the Manufacturing Leadership Community. He also directs the Manufacturing Leadership Awards Program. Follow our LinkedIn Groups: Manufacturing Leadership Council and Manufacturing Leadership Summit


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