In 2014, NASA sent the first 3D printer, created by redwire company, to the International Space Station (ISS) for installation. The ISS orbits Earth at an altitude of 390 kilometers and travels at an impressive speed of 28,000 km per hour.
It’s clear that 3D printing technology has significant value on Earth for creating equipment and items, but its importance is amplified in the context of space exploration. In space, cargo ships for the International Space Station take significant time and resources to prepare, making the ability to print objects on-demand all the more valuable.
Thanks to 3D printing technology, astronauts on the International Space Station will have the ability to create equipment that can assist them in their duties, especially in emergency situations or when certain tools malfunction. While the instruments used on the ISS are thoroughly tested and must meet strict safety standards, the ability to print equipment on-demand can provide an added level of preparedness and minimize the risk of errors.
When International Space Station Commander Barry Wilmore needed a wrench, NASA had a solution in mind. They used 3D printing technology to create the wrench, first printing a sample of the ratchet wrench on Earth from the same 3D printer and then printing it again in space during a four-hour period, with 104 layers deposited. The design file was then sent to the ISS using contemporary communication technology, making this the first time an object was both designed on Earth and printed in space using 3D printing technology.
According to NASA, this tool will be brought back to Earth for testing and comparison with others that have been printed on Earth. The International Space Station is the only area in space where 3D printing technology may be tested in order to develop it and determine the differences for use in future plans. In space, such as Mars.
This is what happened later, as NASA discovered that the 3D printer that uses FDM technology works well in the absence of gravity, as there were no significant differences or obvious problems between the samples printed on Earth and in space, but NASA is now investigating how the microgravity environment may benefit how objects are designed and built-in space for parts that cannot be made on Earth. The printer created one item that would be incredibly difficult to create on the ground due to gravity’s droop.
NASA’s official website offers the file in STL format for printing. This unique piece is available for download, printing, and use by anybody. Consider printing a NASA design that has been rigorously tested to ensure its suitability for usage in space. It truly is a fantastic thing. You may get the file from here.
They also offer a Multi-Purpose Precision Maintenance Tool, which has a variety of useful tools that enable an astronaut to execute their work with comfort and convenience. The various-sized drives at the top allow the user to connect sockets. Wrenches of various sizes are arranged in the middle, allowing fewer wrenches to be transported to the job site. On the left is a precision measuring tool along with wire gauges and a single-edged wire stripper.
In the center is an outline for Velcro to be applied allowing an easy storage around the station. A circular hole in the bottom center allows for a clip to be used as well. On the right, and ergonomic grip is built into the tool with ridges for better grasp, lastly a pry bar is built into the ergonomic grip for ease of access.
It is a tool intended for astronauts on the International Space Station that is appropriate for and compatible with their work there.
You can also get it in STL format by clicking here:
Because the International Space Station contains some plastic waste, and the 3D printer requires a filament with specific specifications in order to use it in the manufacture of models and samples, NASA has found a solution to both problems at the same time, reducing the need to send the filament into space while also recycling it beneficially. It is a gadget designed by Tethers Unlimited, and it was first used there in February 2019.
Currently, NASA intends to employ 3D printers to manufacture metals or plastic materials with qualities comparable to metal that will serve the purpose, because the majority of the items needed in space are made of metal.
In terms of the first 3D printed object in space, NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore, commander of Expedition 42 onboard the International Space Station, installed the printer on November 17, 2014, and executed the first print for a calibration test.
Based on the print test findings, the ground control team issued orders on November 20 to re-align the printer and perform a second calibration test. These tests proved that the printer was ready for production. The first created item was a front panel for the extruder casing, which was supplied by the printer’s ground control units on November 24. This demonstrated that the printer was capable of producing parts for itself.
You may download this piece, try it out for yourself, and share it with your friends along with other things from here:
NASA also has a library of excellent designs for vehicles, satellites, and space equipment that are ready for 3D printing on its official website. You may see them from here and get a one-of-a-kind experience.