You know what’s cooler than 3D printing? 3D printing in space!
Known as the Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF), the second (and much more advanced) 3D printer aboard the International Space Station is now up and running — and it recently printed out its first creation. The 3D printed wrench, complete with a special fastening clip to stop it drifting away in zero g, will allow astronauts on the ISS to carry out vital maintenance work without having to wait around for tools to be delivered.
The zero-gravity capable AMF was the work of Made In Space, a company based in California, which has manufactured the only two 3D printers to ever leave Earth’s confines. It was the culmination of a massive multi-year R&D collaboration between Made In Space and NASA. The wrench, meanwhile, was a partnership between Made In Space and home-improvement store Lowe’s.
“The unique challenges of 3D printing in space include designing a printer that is sturdy enough to survive a rocket launch, reliable enough to work properly after that rocket launch, and safe and clean enough to use in the closed-loop environment of the ISS,” Brad Kohlenberg, Made In Space’s business development engineer, tells Digital Trends. “With AMF, space-developers on Earth now have a safer, faster, and cheaper way to get select hardware to space.”
NASA commissioned the first space-based 3D printer back in 2014 for its orbiting lab, and its success contributed to the ISS hopping on the bandwagon. Right now, the AMF has a print queue of around six months’ worth of tasks. So long as astronauts can make do with the printer bed — which measures 3.9 x 5.5 x 3.9 inches — they should be able to create all manner of tools to help them during their time in the stars.