Astronauts will soon be 3D printing parts they might need up on the International Space Station, after NASA cleared a custom-built machine as being fit for purpose. The printer, made by a California startup called Made In Space, got the thumbs-up after undergoing testing at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.
The printer was examined under rigorous conditions to make sure it could withstand a rocket launch (a bone-jarring, space-quaking process) and zero-gravity conditions. Before the ISS residents can start printing their own parts for use on the space station, however, the first batch of printed items will have to be returned to Earth for testing after all, a flaw, however tiny, could prove fatal.
The printer will be installed in a part of the ISS known as the Microgravity Science Glovebox, or MSG, where its first job will be to print up 21 tools and test parts. It will arrive some time in August via a robotic Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX, Elon Musk's space exploration firm.