A Startup Developed a 3D Printer Capable of Working in the Vacuum of Space

In Brief

A startup has developed a way to 3D print outside the International Space Station, which will give astronauts the ability to repair, upgrade, and prototype in space itself. It will save NASA countless dollars and hundreds of hours.

Printing in Cosmic Conditions

Made in Space, a 3D printing startup, has provided an answer to NASA’s problems with developing tools in the harsh vacuum of space by creating a material that can be printed inside or outside the walls of the International Space Station (ISS).

This new material is composed of polyetherimide/polycarbonate — known as PEI/PC, although it goes by the brand name ULTEM. PEI/PC is several times stronger than anything astronauts are currently using, and it is additionally “resistant to the UV environment, [and] resistant to atomic oxygen, so it can perform actual uses in space” according to Matt Napoli, Vice  President of Made in Space, explained to Popular Mechanics.

Currently, the company is testing a 3D printer called Archinaut, set for release in 2018, which they hope can operate fully outside of the station. Eventually, this could lead to Made in Space using the ISS as a launchpad for the first ever satellites 3D printed in orbit.

A Launchpad to the Future

Sending anything into orbit is dizzyingly expensive. To combat this, NASA has been looking for ways to produce materials for upgrades or repairs in space. But, until now, they have only found ways to 3D print inside the ISS — namely, the ABS and Green PE materials, which are not resilient enough to handle space.

Made in Space will facilitate astronauts taking far less into space, because currently, they must transport all materials and items with them from Earth. This will save future missions countless dollars which can better be used in research and development.

The printer, however, has the potential to not only be reparative but progressive. As Made in Space’s website states, they “give researchers the ability to prototype tools and designs in the environment of space with short iteration cycles.”

3D printing is currently being used for more and more vital and creative things. The technology has the potential to create organs like hearts, restore coral reefs, and even build homes in a single day. Welcome to the golden age of material development.

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