Outer space meets 3D printing

Signal of change / Outer space meets 3D printing

By Anna Simpson / 20 Jan 2015

In December 2014, NASA emailed a spanner to the International Space Station, where astronaut Barry Wilmore simply printed it off. His 3D printer was supplied by Made In Space, a Californian company working with NASA to investigate remanufacturing and recycling in orbit – the ultimate test of a circular economy.

Made In Space is working on a plastic recycling system called R3DO, which would produce a waste-free supply of the feedstock for 3D printers.

“An automated in-space recycling system for 3D printer feedstock will provide game-changing resupply benefits including but not limited to launch mass reduction, mission reliability increases, and decreased reliance on resupply from Earth”, said the company in a proposal for a Small Business Innovation Research grant from NASA to develop its system, which was secure.

The aim, says NASA, is to enable astronauts to be more self-reliant on long-duration space missions. Made In Space is also exploring whether the technology could be applied to shipping, beginning with the US Navy. 

So what?

The capacity to create and recycle in a context as isolated as outer space signals a new frontier for distributed manufacturing. Taking the air miles out of a value chain is one thing; taking space miles out is something else.

Photo credit: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center / Flickr



What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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