California Company Pioneers 3-D Printing in Space

Imagine a future in which humanity builds outposts in space – on the surface of the moon, floating in the clouds above Venus, or on the dusty plains of Mars – capable of manufacturing parts built to digital order, rather than waiting months or years for replacement supplies from Earth.

This kind of self-sufficiency is an essential goal for the success of such ventures. For one California startup company, it’s a goal that’s closer than most people think.

Made In Space, a small company (it has only 22 employees) founded just four years ago with the assistance of Silicon Valley high-tech incubator` Singularity University, is pioneering the development of 3-D printers capable of operating in microgravity environments. The machine designed by Made In Space uses an extrusion-based method that layers hot liquefied ABS plastic to build objects based off digital 3-D models. Future machines would use other materials, ideally – in the case of extraterrestrial outposts – materials mined locally.

“The goal of Made In Space is to develop the necessary technologies to allow humanity to move beyond earth,” said Made In Space Chief Technology Officer and Co-founder Jason Dunn. “The ability to construct materials, tools and structures in space is essential to the exploration and development of our solar system.”

Made In Space’s first ‘field device’ arrived on the International Space Station (ISS) in September 2014, and has since been successfully used to produce a variety of objects, including at least one that can’t be easily manufactured in an environment with normal gravity. Most recently, the printer made headlines for producing a tool that wasn’t even designed when the machine was launched. The humble ratchet wrench, produced in response to a request made by ISS astronauts, represents a milestone in on-demand manufacturing. … (read more)