3D printing could keep the ISS in orbit indefinitely

first_imgIf something breaks aboard the International Space Station, NASA has to either hope there’s already a spare part on board, or add it to the list of items to include on the next delivery. That turns out to be a very expensive way to maintain an orbiting craft, and part of the reason why the ISS has a limited life span.There may be a very simple and cost-effective way to solve the maintenance problem, though. Why carry out a very expensive launch into space when astronauts already aboard the ISS could just manufacture new parts themselves?Impossible, you say? Not if NASA installs a 3D printer and has a stock pile of material with which to manufacture replacements. All that needs happen then is the schematics for a given part be transmitted to the ISS and the object is made by the printer.Work is already underway to make this idea a reality by start-up Made in Space. They have settled on an extrusion printer that uses plastic polymers as a building block material. They believe it can manufacture many of the parts the ISS relies on to function. Beyond that, they also see it as a key piece of tech for when we finally decide to colonize another planet and need to produce objects for use there.Manufacturing things for space in space makes a lot of sense. Parts do not have to be as strong as if they were made on Earth because they won’t be subjected to the stress of a launch. Their designs can therefore be simpler and the resulting parts lighter. You also remove the cost of getting a precisely engineered piece of hardware outside of our atmosphere, and also the risk something breaks on the way up. Instead, you just launch the plastic base material into space and feed it into the printer on arrival at the ISS. And if a vital part breaks? You could have a replacement in several hours instead of weeks or months.Testing of the 3D space printer is expected to be carried out on private space flights that allow for limited weightlessness time. But if all goes well we may see a 3D printer installed on the ISS as early as 2014.Read more at Innovation News Daily and Space.comlast_img

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