Nasa to launch 3D printer into space

US space agency Nasa plans to launch a 3D printer into space next year to allow astronauts to manufacture spare parts and tools in zero gravity.

This would be the first instance of the launch of a 3D printer into space, which is expected to cut costs of future missions.

The device would have to withstand lift-off vibrations and operate safely in an enclosed space station environment.

Technology start-up, Made in Space, has been chosen by Nasa to make the microwave oven-sized printer.

According to Aaron Kemmer, the chief executive, of the start-up, astronauts would be greatly benefited if instead of having to depend on the availability of the parts on the station, these could be 3D printed when needed, BBC reported.

BBC quoted  Dave Korsmeyer, director of engineering at Nasa's Ames Research Center, as saying that adaptability required the ability to design and manufacture on the fly, and that was where 3D printing space came in.

The space agency had also 3D printed small satellites that could be launched from the International Space Station and to transmit data back to earth.

Additive manufacturing, as 3D printing was also known, built up objects layer by layer, using mostly polymer materials.

The first 3D printer in space would launch to the space station aboard commercial spaceflight provider SpaceX's Dragon capsule, in what would  largely be a proof-of-concept flight, in which astronauts would use the device to demonstrate its functionality in the microgravity environment, The Christian Science Monitor reported Mike Chen, Made in Space co-founder and chief strategy officer as saying.

Chen spoke to an audience at World Maker Faire in New York on 21 September.

Made in Space expects the 3D printer space launch  to kickstart designs for science experiments, innovative projects and artwork from others on earth.

Chen said, once the printer was out there, the company would be opening it up to the world to print things in space, in an open solicitation of ideas and encouragement to people to contact the company with thoughts.

If all were to go well, a permanent version of the 3D printer would be launched to the International Space Station in 2015.

According to Chen, the paradigm shift that the company wanted everyone to understand was:  instead of launching things to space, they could just print it there.

Chen said, it was really expensive and difficult to launch things into space, that put a real dampening effect on innovation.

A 3D printing capability on the International Space Station is expected to open up possibilities for the materials that could be produced in space and the types of experiments that could be performed there.