3D printing is one of the current major tech trends, and a 3D printer has been ferried up to and just installed on the International Space Station.
It’s called the Zero G, and as the name suggests, the printer had to be specially built to cope with the lack of gravity up in space.
The device was designed and manufactured by the startup Made In Space, and was actually sent to the ISS back in September via the SpaceX 4 resupply mission.
However, earlier this week it was finally installed inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG) by astronaut Barry Wilmore, with the 3D printer powering on correctly, and going through all the system test checks of its software and hardware to ensure it was functioning correctly.
The idea is the printer can be used to produce equipment on-site, giving a reliable way of manufacturing things in space, but to begin with the first items printed will simply be engineering test coupons. These will then be brought back to Earth and compared to control samples made with the same printer down here to check for quality and any potential issues.
Mike Snyder, Director of R&D at Made In Space, commented: “This experiment has been an advantageous first stepping stone to the future ability to manufacture a large portion of materials and equipment in space that has been traditionally launched from Earth surface, which will completely change our methods of exploration.”
At this stage, then, the printer is still an experimental device, but should help to hone the first commercial 3D printer which Made In Space reckons it will have up at the space station at some point next year.