Skip to main content

Oh! So that’s how NASA’s 3D printer will work on the International Space Station

oh so this is how nasas 3d printer will work in orbit nasa

When we first heard that NASA had plans to take a 3D printer into space in 2014, our first reaction was: Awesome! Our second reaction was: How the heck can you 3D print in space? Won’t the plastic material float up in the air in zero gravity? In a video published yesterday by NASA Marshall TV, our questions were mostly answered (although we’re a little confused by the disco tunes in the background, but that’s another story). 

NASA has designed and built its own additive manufacturing printer that has a footprint of about a square foot. You might be thinking that bringing a 3D printer on the International Space Station is a little frivolous, bit it’s actually very useful. In space, whatever the astronauts have available in orbit is what they have – there are no hardware stores in space. But parts get lost or break, and when they do, there’s a long wait for replacement parts if they don’t already have a backup on board. With a 3D printer, however, the astronauts can 3D-print some of the parts that they need, eliminating the wait time for the new item. The printer contains preloaded plans for common parts, and the astronauts can even receive new plans from Earth if they need something not already pre-made. 

“3D printing provides us with the ability to be able to do our own Star Trek replication right there on the spot to help us replace things we’ve lost, replace things we’ve broken, or maybe make  things we’ve thought  of that can be useful,” astronaut Timothy Creamer explains in the video. 

According to Jason Dunn, CTO of Made in Space (the company responsible for designing the hardware), the printer recently underwent a set of tests through the NASA Flight Opportunities program, where they flew the printer on zero gravity parabolic flights, verifying that the design of their printer works in microgravity. Looks like the printer is ready for takeoff.

We’re pretty sure only one of these 3D-printable household items would be useable in orbit, but NASA should consider the Finger Fork if their space forks go missing. Check out the video below to see the printer in action. 

Editors' Recommendations

Jennifer Bergen
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Jennifer Bergen is the Computing Section Editor at Digital Trends and is in charge of all things laptops, desktops, and their…
NASA sets new SpaceX Crew-3 launch date after second delay
SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts.

NASA has delayed the launch of SpaceX’s Crew-3 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) while one of the astronauts deals with a "minor" medical issue.

The launch from the Kennedy Space Center was originally set for early Sunday morning but was delayed until Wednesday due to an approaching storm. On Monday, NASA announced the second delay and is now targeting 11:36 p.m. ET (8:36 p.m. PT) on Saturday, November 6 for launch.

Read more
NASA eyes weather for SpaceX’s Crew-3 launch. Here’s how it’s looking
The Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule on the launchpad ahead of the Crew-3 mission.

NASA and SpaceX are about to send another four astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), but calm and stable weather conditions are needed if the rocket is to launch at the scheduled time.

Two days before lift-off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the forecast is looking good, according to the U.S. Space Force 45th Weather Squadron, which keeps NASA abreast of such data.

Read more
Watch NASA’s trailer for SpaceX’s Crew-3 launch on Saturday
The four astronauts heading to the space station in October 2021.

Just a few days before SpaceX launches four more astronauts to space, NASA has released a trailer highlighting the mission. You can watch it below.

Watch NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 Mission Launch on Oct. 31 (Trailer)

Read more