Sometimes, 3D-printed objects are so innovative that they seem to be out of this world! And, in the case of NASA’s latest endeavor, we mean that literally!

NASA was recently urged to begin research on 3D printing for the International Space Station (ISS), which has around six to 10 years of operational life left.


A 3D printer is set to launch to the station sometime next month. Since the ISS won’t be around forever, this recent push to put NASA into action regarding 3D printing is necessary.

This development is a step towards self-sustainability and safety on the station. This project was carried out by Made in Space, a tech startup that worked with NASA to create the 3D printer that is designed to function in zero gravity in order to create spare parts, crew tools and a mini satellite for research.

This 3D printer will allow the ISS to be less dependent on resupply ships for materials, which could, in turn, cut transportation costs and improve safety.

Although there is a time crunch, many believe that this situation poses a great opportunity to learn how 3D printing works in microgravity. If the process is conducted outside of the station, researchers can learn how thermal stresses, which are quick changes from hot to cold, could affect the materials that are used.

Despite the innovation that is created from 3D printers regularly, printing in space is in another realm, because it involves a sound understanding of materials science in order for it to work. Since the Skylab space station of the 1970s, NASA has continued to do experiments in this area.

Additionally, NASA is providing funds to a company called Tethers Unlimited in the hopes of launching very small materials like thread spools to transform into kilometer-long antennas or solar arrays in space.

Even the United States Air Force is planning on using 3D printing on the ground in an effort to manufacture lighter parts for satellites and rockets and reduce the amount of fuel that’s needed to lift these objects into space.

Both NASA and the Air Force have been urged to work together in order to share their expertise on the matter.

With 3D printing in mind for the ISS and a ticking clock to get this job done, one sure thing is that the core of this mission and this process is to ultimately advance the quality of space research and travel. But, we think that it’s safe to say that this innovation is out of this world, literally!

Copyright Inventionland 2014