Cosmonauts launch 3D-printed satellite from the International Space Station

3D printed satellite
NASA

Around the globe, 3D printing is changing manufacturing as we know it and it looks like this innovation is by no means limited to our planet. On Thursday, a pair of cosmonauts aboard the International Space Station launched the world’s first satellite made almost wholly out of 3D-printed components.

It is ungodly expensive to launch items to space. In fact, it costs about $10,000 per pound to launch an object into orbit. Consequently, NASA has been exploring 3D printing to minimize costs. The agency, in partnership with the company Made In Space, has 3D printed an array of tools to use onboard the ISS.

To avoid the harsh vacuum of space, these materials have been predominantly used inside of the space station. However, Thursday, Russian cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Sergey Ryazanskiy released five nanosatellites as part of larger extravehicular activity mission. The first of which had an exterior casing made with a 3D printer at Russia’s Tomsk Polytechnic University. It is important to note that the 3D-printed satellite contains traditional internal electronics.

This launch is part of a larger effort to better understand the how 3D-printed components weather the vacuum of space. Highly reminiscent of the Voyager Golden Record, the 3D-printed satellite also contains greetings in a host of languages from around the globe. The small satellites (each is less than two feet in size) are expected to orbit the Earth for about six months. One of the satellites celebrates the 60th anniversary of Sputnik 1, the world’s first successful satellite while another commemorates the 160th birthday of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who is considered the father of Russian rocketry.

As part of the satellite launches, the two Russian astronauts spent nearly eight hours outside of the space station. This was substantially longer than the planned six-hour spacewalk. This mission included collecting other experiments outside of the ISS and also wiping residue from the exterior for analysis.

“We will have actually some grounds to get drunk today, I think,” joked one of the cosmonauts.

Currently, the cosmonauts share the space station with three Americans and an Italian. You ever hear the one where a pair of cosmonauts, three American astronauts, and an Italian walk into a space bar?