Think 3D printing is an emerging field? Think again. NASA has been a player in additive manufacturing aka 3D printing extravaganza since the 90s when this technology really started to take center stage. According to NASA.gov, designers used printers to create plastic replicas of parts that were too pricey to prototype with metal. In those days, printers were also too small and were not capable of making elaborate flight hardware. Flash forward to now and see that NASA is 3D printing larger parts, with the ability of using different materials or combinations, and at a cost-effective level. NASA is currently testing printable technologies in launches, robotics and deep space missions using various plastics and metals such as titanium, aluminum and other nickel alloys. Not enough? NASA also prints and tests telescope optics and rocket parts, additionally intending to print launch vehicles and robotic landers in the future. But all designs don’t necessarily come from NASA and they are certainly not all printed within Earth’s planetary confinement. The very first 3D printer, made by intergalactic enthusiast company Made In Space, officially left Earth in September 2014 and joined the team on the NASA International Space Station (ISS). The first pieces created in the ISS in 2014 were sent home to Earth for comparison analysis between objects made before the launch. Recently a panel of NASA judges held the 3D Print Design Challenge contest in which a teenager won with his Multipurpose Precision Maintenance Tool. The winner will watch as his design is being printed on board the ISS 220 miles away, above Earth. No, there are not any functioning NASA space vehicles or robots available for download – perhaps one day. However, there are dozens of planet and moon textures available for download and numerous satellites, space antennas and spacesuit models. These would be perfect for a school project or a demo. We’ve gathered them here on Spyder 3D World. If the planets align, perhaps the next best design for space will come from Spyder’s very capable hub of 3D printing mastery.
Niki Werkheiser, the International Space Station 3-D printer project manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, discusses the on-orbit set-up and first test run of the International Space Station’s 3-D Printer.
Video Credit: NASA