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STATION NEWS
Space station gets zero-gravity 3-D printer
by Brooks Hays
Washington (UPI) Nov 18, 2014


disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

The International Space Station is now home to a 3-D printer, after NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore spent most of Monday unpacking and installing the machine. He and his colleagues will soon begin experimenting with additive manufacturing in microgravity.

The printer was engineered by the California-based company Made In Space and delivered to the space station in late September, but its installation had to be put off while astronauts wrapped up a few time-sensitive experiments.

If the new printer works properly in space, it could help ISS astronauts become more self-sufficient -- allowing them to design and print their own tools and gadgets right on board instead of waiting for another resupply cargo ship to be launched from Earth.

To ensure the printer is unaffected by microgravity, astronauts will begin by printing a pair of "engineering coupons." The coupons will be sent back to mission control where they'll be compared to coupons that were printed before the machine was packaged and shipped into outer space.

"This is a very exciting day for me and the rest of the team. We had to conquer many technical challenges to get the 3D printer to this stage," Made In Space lead engineer Mike Snyder said in a company press release. "This experiment has been an advantageous first stepping stone to the future ability to manufacture a large portion of materials and equipment in space that has been traditionally launched from Earth surface, which will completely change our methods of exploration."

Snyder and his colleagues are confident in their work and expect the machine to perform as advertised.

"We have really high expectations for it printing," Jason Dunn, the company's chief technology officer, said in an interview earlier this year. "We've done all the zero gravity research we could on the airplane. (But) there's always the things we can't test that you can only do once you're up there."

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