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When it comes to space travel, 3D printing opportunities have primarily come through 3D printers here on earth creating new parts for aerospace that couldn't be created through conventional manufacturing. But now a new frontier is about to take place with sending 3D printers directly up into spacecraft to print needed items in space. If you think this is an independent venture, it's actually going to be through NASA and their Flight Opportunities Program. It's also tied in with Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic spacecraft that's scheduled to be testing soon for space tourism.
Had the space shuttles still been operating, you can be sure that 3D printers would be up in space by now. Regardless, the International Space Station is going to get one by the end of the year thanks to a company called Made in Space creating the 3D printers.
Just how will it change space travel in the future once 3D printers are available up there to print things quickly when needed?
The Challenge of 3D Printing in Space
NBC News recently reported on this 3D printing experiment and how challenging it could be. Nobody really knows how a 3D printer will operate in a zero gravity environment. It's part of the purpose behind the experiment and may mean eventually tweaking the chosen 3D printer to withstand these conditions. The implications, though, are very important in the safety of future space travel.
You can imagine how much a 3D printer could avert disaster someday if something goes wrong in the International Space Station or a possible future spacecraft. With considerable scrutiny already placed on the safety of Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic spacecraft and space tourism, a 3D printer aboard could possibly avert a major disaster. That's especially true in printing out a vital part inadvertently going out without having to wait for another spacecraft to deliver it.
Of course, it can also mean use for other things other than emergencies. Printing out food or other casual items could make future space tourism a more fun experience.
Out of all 3D printing advancements, this is going to be worth watching later this year. Should the Virgin Galactic test flights not pass, we'll see the 3D printers on the ISS first where plenty of time can be given to present a better glimpse into the future of 3D printing in space.