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Sensing & Measurement

New horizons open with space-based 3D printing

When necessary tools and spare parts can be printed in space, space travel and colonization will have overcome one of its big hurdles.

1 April 2015, SPIE Newsroom. DOI: 10.1117/2.3201504.01

Founded in 2010 with the goal of enabling humanity's future in space, Made In Space, Inc. (Mountain View, CA) has developed additive manufacturing technology for use in the space environment.

The Zero-G Printer is the first 3D printer designed to operate in zero gravity. Launched into orbit on 21 September 2014, the printer was built under a joint partnership between NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) and Made In Space. Contracted as the "3D Printing in Zero-G Experiment," this first version of the Zero-G printer has ushered in the era of off-world manufacturing.

This initial version of the Zero-G Printer is serving as a test bed for understanding the long-term effects of microgravity on 3D printing, and how it can enable the future of space exploration. It is a culmination of contracts and development dating back to 2010 including microgravity tests with NASA's Flight Opportunities Program, R&D contracts under NASA's SBIR Programs, and development contracts with NASA MSFC.

In this SPIE video, aerospace engineer Matthew Napoli explains the Zero-G Printer.