Company to send 3D printer up to International Space Station

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In March, a new 3-D printer will be set up to the space station so if they need a new part they can print it up. (KGO-TV)

Friday night the International Space Station passed over the Bay Area. NASA says it would only be visible for about five minutes, starting at 6:56 p.m. Next month, a new 3D printer will be sent up to the ISS.

Soon, a space shuttle launch will be one of two ways to put something in space.

"You either take this satellite to a launch pad and put it on a rocket or you come to this office and give us the digital file, and we will digitally launch your satellite to our 3D printer and print it out," Made In Space chief technology officer Jason Dunn said.

Called the additive manufacturing facility, it heads to the space station next month.

"The way we've developed 3D printers to work in zero gravity is we actually get to take the printers into zero gravity ourselves," Dunn said.

Bay Area startup Made In Space sent up a test unit that's made working tools. Now, there's a wish list.

"Back scratchers... it turns out you're in space for a long time and you just want to scratch your back," Dunn said.

And for NASA scientists, it means fewer delays, if an experiment breaks.

"Being able to manufacture that now, rather than wait for the next part to come up on the next available flight to station," Eugene Tu from the NASA Ames Research Center said.

But building things on board the space station is barely even the beginning. The goal is a device that looks less like a printer and more like a spacecraft.

In a partnership with NASA and Northrop Grumman, Made In Space wants to 3D print outside the station in the vacuum of space. They're calling it Archinaut.

Either Archinaut looks like it's pulling objects out of its belly, or it will look like it's climbing the object as it builds it," Dunn explained.

The reason is compelling; a spacecraft built on Earth has to be able to launch on a rocket.

NASA space technology associate administrator Stephen Jurczyk said, "So we do this origami, where we fold up solar arrays, we fold up reflectors."

Building things high above the Earth means you don't have to launch oddly items.

The first step is a test -- a smaller Archinaut tethered to the space station they hope to have up in about two years. But soon, it could change communication satellites, build the next space station and pave the way to Mars.

"If we're going into the final frontier, SpaceX is building the covered wagon and we are building the pickaxes and other tools," Made In Space CEO Andrew Rush said.
Related Topics:
sciencenasaspaceinternational space station3D printingMoffett Field
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