We just got closer to self-sufficiency in space with the installation of a 3D printer aboard the International Space Station. The Zero-G is the first 3D printer built for zero gravity. It was designed by Bay Area startup Made In Space, and it arrived on the International Space Station on Sept. 22, according to Gigaom. The inability to manufacture spare parts keeps space missions dependent on resupply from Earth. Now, if a spare part on the ISS breaks, Made In Space’s team on Earth could design a new one to be re-printed by the astronauts.
An astronaut installed a 3D printer on the International Space Station (ISS) this morning — a big first that could change how the station’s inhabitants go about their daily lives. The printer, which is made by Bay Area startup Made in Space, arrived at the ISS on Sept. 22 aboard SpaceX’s Dragon cargo ship. It had to wait to be installed while astronauts concentrated on time-sensitive experiments, such as a group of mice. It will first print 22 parts to test how it performs in space, followed by a second batch of undetermined items. Made in Space will use what it learns to build a second printer that will be installed permanently in 2015. The printer will be available to companies and institutions interested in performing experiments in space. But the astronauts on the ISS will also be able to replace parts, print extra supplies and respond to emergency situations that up until now have required some serious MacGyver-ing to solve. “We have really high expectations for it printing,” Made in Space CTO Jason Dunn said in September. “We’ve done all the zero gravity research we could on the airplane. (But) there’s always the things we can’t test that you can only do once you’re up there.”