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article image3D printer successfully used in space

By Tim Sandle     Dec 31, 2014 in Science
A 3D printer has been used in space for the first time on board the International Space Station (ISS). The first item produced was a ratchet and the technology paves the way for astronauts to produce their own essential items.
The printer is relatively small, resembling the size of a small microwave. The project began back in March 2014. The 3D Printing In Zero-G Technology Demonstration (3D Printing In Zero-G) was a success, where a demonstration took place at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. This success led to a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award being made to Made In Space Inc. to build the first 3D printer for operation in microgravity.
3D printing is the process of making a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model. The process starts with a virtual design, created as a Computer Aided Design file using a modeling program. 3D printing is achieved using an additive process, where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes.
The printer was built and sent to ISS aboard the SpaceX-4 resupply mission. Now the ISS’s 3D printer has completed the first phase of the trial by printing a tool with a design file transmitted from the ground to the printer. The tool generated was a ratchet wrench. The 3-D printer produced the wrench by additive manufacturing, depositing 104 layers of plastic.
In a little under one week, the ratchet was designed, approved by safety and the file was sent to space. The printer then remarkably made the wrench in around four hours. As part of on-going assessment, the ratchet wrench will be returned to the ground for analysis and testing focused on durability and material strength.
The success with the ratchet will lead to trials on other tools. Longer-term it is hoped that long-term missions, such as to Mars, will benefit significantly from such on-board manufacturing capabilities. Currently it can take months or even years, depending on the launch resupply schedule, to get equipment to space. Moreover, for exploration missions, resupply from Earth would be impossible without advances in technology that would allow astronauts to create their own tools and supplies.
More about 3d, 3D Printer, Printing, Iss, Space station
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