The first 3D printer is soon to fly into Earth orbit, finding a home aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The size of a small microwave, the unit is called Portal. The hardware serves as a testbed for evaluating how well 3D printing and the microgravity of space combine. The soon-to-fly 3D printer can churn out plastic objects within a span of 15 minutes to an hour.

The technology works by extruding heated plastic, and then builds successive layers to make a three-dimensional object. In essence, the test on the ISS might well lead to establishing a “machine shop” in space.

The 3D printer experiment is being done under the tech directorate's Game Changing Development Program, a NASA thrust that seeks to identify and rapidly mature innovative/high impact capabilities and technologies for infusion in a broad array of future NASA missions.

According to the team, manufacturing assets in space, as opposed to launching them from Earth, will accelerate and broaden space development while providing unprecedented access for people on Earth to use in-space capabilities.


Also: Learn about Ammonia Leak Detection on the ISS.