Scott Crump, who helped develop 3D printing technology in 1988 by making a toy frog for his daughter with a glue gun in his kitchen, said he never conceived how pivotal it could be for space travel. However, he said that until metal becomes commonly used in 3D printers, the applications will be limited.
“The good news is that you don’t have to have this huge amount of inventory in space, but the bad news is now you need materials, in this case filament, and a lot of power,” he said.
NASA and other international space agencies are pressing forward with 3D printing. Mastering space manufacturing, along with finding and producing water and food on the moon or other planets, could lead to living on space.
Last month, the space agency awarded Bothell, Washington-based Tethers Unlimited US$500,000 toward a project to use 3D printing and robots to build massive antennas and solar power generators in space by 2020. It replaces the expensive and cumbersome process of building foldable parts on Earth and assembling them in orbit.
For Made In Space’s debut, when it is shuttled up to the space station aboard a spaceflight cargo resupply mission, the initial prints will be tests — different small shapes to be studied for strength and accuracy. They are also discussing with NASA about what the first real piece that they should print will be.
Whatever it is, it will be a historic and symbolic item sure to end up in a museum someday.
“It’s not something we’re discussing publicly right now,” Kemmer said.
Then, Jason Dunn, the chief technology officer, beckoned, dropping his voice as he grinned.
“We’re going to build a Death Star,” he joked softly, referring to the giant space station in the Star Wars movies that could blow up planets. “Then it’s all going to be over.”