“Imagine an astronaut needing to make a life-or-death repair on the International Space Station. Rather than hoping that the necessary parts and tools are on the station already, what if the parts could be 3D printed when they needed them?” postulates Aaron Kemmer, chief executive officer of Made In Space, located at the NASA Ames Research Park in Mountain View, Calif.
All space missions today are completely dependent on Earth and the launch vehicles that send equipment to space. This fact is often considered a boon for broad range of aerospace vendors—including commercial space firms, prime contractors and subcontractors, and system- and component-level suppliers—but, at the same time, bad news for both taxpayers and awaiting astronauts in space. Moreover, the greater the distance a mission is from Earth and the longer its duration, the more difficult it is to resupply materials. Government and aerospace leaders are setting out to change all that.
“As NASA ventures further into space, whether redirecting an asteroid or sending humans to Mars, we’ll need transformative technology to reduce cargo weight and volume,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said during a recent tour of the agency’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. “In the future, perhaps astronauts will be able to print the tools or components they need while in space.”
In the summer of 2013, officials at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and space manufacturing company Made In Space began preparations to enable a future where parts can be built on-demand in space. And so, the 3D Printing in Zero-G Experiment was born.