In Space, 3-D Printer Will Make Satellites On The Fly

NASA is launching its first 3-D printer into space next year, allowing astronauts to travel farther from earth

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If you find it hard to pack light for vacations, spare a thought for astronauts. Normally, space travelers have to take everything with them, from satellites to spare parts. But NASA’s plans to launch a 3-D printer into space next year could change all that.

The toaster-sized gadgets will act as portable factories, producing objects from layers of plastic. NASA engineers are currently using the printers in labs to make heat-resistant rocket pieces, replacement parts and small satellites that can be projected from a space station to transmit data to earth.

The first 3-D printer is scheduled to be tested in space in the fall.

[AP]

4 comments
chenopod
chenopod

One more comment. I doubt the printer will "make satellites on the fly." That makes it sound as if this printer cranking out fully functional satellites which is not remotely plausible. Maybe the shell the satellite goes into, but all the complicated stuff, like electronics, will still have to be built on earth.

JKBullis
JKBullis

Whoever makes the decisions to do things like this needs to be sent back to learn industrial processes.  3-D printing can be useful in making plastic patterns which then lead to metal castings which are useful in machines. 

Here we have razzle dazzle for the ignorant.  And for the cost of putting that little box on the space station, the gain in razzle dazzle about what can be done on the space station is beyond silly. 

Codexone
Codexone

If it uses space junk to do printing, kudos. If the resin/plastic has to be delivered from earth, its not helpful.

chenopod
chenopod

@Codexone In general I agree. I think one could make the argument that rather than sending 100 different spare parts (a number I made up) NASA would only have to send enough resin to make 5 spare parts (another number I made up) and then the astronauts could print only the parts that needed to be replaced on demand. In practice, it is probably easier to simply stock the parts they need and leave the 3-D printer on earth. Make's a good press release though :)