First in-space 3D printing trial a success

The 3D printer, called the Microgravity Science Glovebox Engineering Unit, in a picture taken in April during flight certification before its launch to the station.

The test of a 3D printer in space, that could create spare parts and tools on site for astronauts, has been a success.

Cosmos looked at the trials of 3D printing in zero gravity in September, as this mission was getting ready to go.

The test unit on the International Space Station will attempt to make 21 test parts, including tools and facsimiles of the space station’s parts.

The printer works by extruding heated plastic, which then builds layer upon layer to create three-dimensional objects.

The major challenge of operating the machine in zero gravity is getting the layers to stick together, as heat transfers differently in low and zero G from the way it does on Earth.

The company behind the innovation, Made In Space, has come up with a formula that helps the layers adhere, but it is being very secretive about what actually goes into it.

The first object printed on the ISS is a printhead faceplate engraved with names of the organisations that collaborated on the technology – NASA and Made In Space.

The printed objects will be returned to Earth next year for detailed analysis and comparison to the identical ground control samples made on the flight printer before launch.

Testing is the first step toward creating a working "machine shop" in space. This capability may decrease cost and risk on the station, which will be critical when space explorers venture far from Earth.

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