The International Space Station recently set up a 3D printer in orbit. It was installed on 27th June 2016, by Jeff Williams, a NASA astronaut. This printer has been created by a company called Made in Space and Lowe’s. This printer uses a plastic filament to 3D print objects using the FDM, Fuse Deposition Modeling. It has printed a Kobalt-branded wrench for use in the operations at the ISS.
The printer was first launched in 2014 where was used to print objects on demand, for long journeys, to and beyond the moon. This was stated by Niki Werkheiser, the space station 3D printer program manager at Marshall Space Flight Center, NASA, Huntsville, Alabama.
NASA wants to ensure the smooth operation of the printer, for long trips like that to Mars. It is very difficult to transport objects to the ISS, it could take days or months. But with a fully-functioning 3D printer in space, astronauts could easily have utility objects when needed. This could be very handy in emergency situations.
3D printing of certain tools could be difficult in outer space, but it was observed that 3Dprinted of some objects is viable in space due to the absence of gravity. 3D printers give out fumes that could be harmful to the environment of ISS. Hence, this newly designed printer would have the provision of capturing and filtering the polluted air.
NASA approves the objects that are shipped to ISS. But in this case, it would not be possible, as the objects would be printed in space; NASA would approve the plans for the objects printed in space. The samples are printed and first sent to NASA for examination and approval. 3Dprinting technology could be a pivotal tool in printing objects required for the long journey to Mars.