After sending the first Zero-Gravity 3D Printer to the International Space Station back in September, the device has now 3D printed the very first object in space.
26.11.2014: Last week NASA austronaut Barry Wilmore has successfully installed the printer and conducted the first calibration test print, which verified that the printer was ready for manufacturing operations. After having received the command from ground control, the device completed 3D printing the first part in Zero-G on 25th November: a faceplate of its own extruder casing with the words “Made In Space”
This demonstrated that the printer can manufacture its own replacement parts. Further objects to be printed will be sent back to Earth for detailed analysis. The parts will be tested and compared with those printed on ground.
“This first print is the initial step toward providing an on-demand machine shop capability away from Earth,” said Niki Werkheiser, project manager for the International Space Station 3-D Printer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “The space station is the only laboratory where we can fully test this technology in space.”
Werkheiser continues: “We chose this part to print first because, after all, if we are going to have 3-D printers make spare and replacement parts for critical items in space, we have to be able to make spare parts for the printers. If a printer is critical for explorers, it must be capable of replicating its own parts, so that it can keep working during longer journeys to places like Mars or an asteroid. Ultimately, one day, a printer may even be able to print another printer.”
In the following video she discussed the on-orbit set-up and first test run:
22.12.2014: Update – ISS 3D prints file received by e-mail
After the successful installation back in November, the 3D printer on board the ISS has now 3D printed a socket wrench, that was e-mailed to the space station.
The tool was designed on the NASA Ames campus in Autodesk’s CAD software. After converting the file to GCODE, the Huntsville Operations Support Center sent the file to the International Space Station, where it was printed out. This socket wrench is the first object that was manufactured in space based on a digitally sent file designed on the ground. The wrench was fabricated within only four hours compared to probably a few months, that it would have taken to sent the physical tool up to the space station.
20.01.2015: Update – These are the first 14 objects 3D printed in space
The 3D printer manufactured by the Silicon Valley startup Made in Space has just completed its initial task. 14 unique objects have been created by the printer installed on the ISS as part of the “3D Printing in Zero-Gravity Technology Demonstration”.
In total a number of 25 parts were printed due to duplicate prints made to determine the consistency of prints over time.
The 3D printing tests have been a significant outcome for both, NASA and Made in Space engineerings teams:
“Based on visual inspection and crew interaction, there were no significant print failures. If you have ever used a 3D printer before you probably realize just how incredible that first sentence is, especially when you then consider the fact that this 3D printer had to first withstand the forces of a rocket launch before printing anything.”
February 20, 2015: Update – 3D printed parts from ISS return to earth
Last week the SpaceX’s Dragon, a cargo spacecraft, returned to earth carrying nearly 3,700 pounds of cargo, including the 3D printed parts from the International Space Station.
“Experiments like 3-D printing in space demonstrate important capabilities that allow NASA and humanity to proceed farther on the journey to Mars,” said Kirt Costello, deputy chief scientist for the ISS Program at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston.
NASA is now going to test the 3D printed samples that include a ratchet wrench made with a design file transmitted from earth to the printer on the ISS.