The Dragon CRS-4 resupply spacecraft launched by Space Exploration Technologies recently docked with the International Space Station (ISS), to deliver supplies including spare parts, clothes, food, and of course science experiments—including the first 3D printer in space. Manufactured by Made in Space, the 3D printer will be used by NASA for its 3D Printing In Zero–G Technology Demonstration (3D Print), in collaboration with the Centre for the Advancement of Science in Space or “CASIS”.
Jason Dunn, CTO and co-founder of Made in Space, explained that the company originally hoped to send a normal commercial 3D printer to the ISS, so that anybody could email schematics into space and have it printed.
“Getting a 3D printer there quick was our goal, we took these commercial printers on the zero-gee flights and we tested over a dozen different printers and then built some new printers of our own, but through that entire process, we did over three hours of zero-gravity time. We found that none of the commercial printers would work. We had to modify them significantly to get thermal settings right, to get the mechanical settings right, all the things you would imagine. But then on top of that, just to build a printer that could survive launch to the Space Station, to meet all the safety requirements to work on the Space Station. The outgassing can be harmful to the crew, and the EMI, and the things like that.”