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Space ISS Technology

NASA Wants To Test 3-D Printing Aboard ISS 115

Posted by timothy
from the it-puts-the-droplets-in-the-bucket dept.
coondoggie writes "NASA wants to test out 3-D printing technology onboard the International Space Station to find out if the technology could be used to manufacture parts in space." NASA may not be creating any production parts this way for a long time yet, but they've got to start somewhere.
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NASA Wants To Test 3-D Printing Aboard ISS

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  • Debbie Downers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by spire3661 (1038968) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @04:13PM (#43884875) Journal
    Why the 'well it sucks and cant be used for anything yet, but we are going to try it' attitude? ISNT THAT THE POINT OF THE ISS? To try the unfeasible and untested? How many experiments have gone up on pure theory alone and never have real world payouts? This FOR SURE will yield valuable data on advanced manufacturing techniques in space. You couldnt ask for a better experiment.
    • Why the 'well it sucks and cant be used for anything yet, but we are going to try it' attitude? ISNT THAT THE POINT OF THE ISS?

      Given the cost of getting stuff up there and the opportunity cost (i.e. other experiments that could be done with the limited time & other resources) I'd say no.

      Get it nearly working down here, then tune/polish/tweak it up there.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Given the risk/reward for the space program, I'd say yes. If it is feasible in zero G to print parts, it would be much easier to ship up the raw materials and then make them there rather than have to ship it from Earth.

        If something critical to just one experiment breaks, the cost in lost time waiting until the next trip from Earth rather than building the part immediately to fix it is more than worth it.

      • blowing bubbles

        growing frut flies

        putting spy satellites

        missles and bombs

        freeze dried ice cream

    • Why the 'well it sucks and cant be used for anything yet, but we are going to try it' attitude? ISNT THAT THE POINT OF THE ISS?

      Not sure of your point here, they are doing what you (and I) think they should do, right?

    • by jythie (914043)
      People tend to forget that one of the points of NASA is to do work that is no where near ready for profit driven companies to invest in.
    • by khallow (566160)

      How many experiments have gone up on pure theory alone and never have real world payouts?

      It's worth noting both that the answer in the real world, not the ISS, is "not many" and second, when scientists have limited resources with which to do science, they pick and choose which science they do. The only time this argument even occurs is when someone tries to spend more of other peoples' money without providing an actual reason for doing so.

      It should be a warning sign when one appeals to the blue sky science approach.

  • by gr7 (933549) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @04:17PM (#43884893)

    The common, cheap, FDM printers (the ones that squirt out hot plastic from a nozzle) can print just fine upside down. So obviously they will print fine with zero gravity.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 01, 2013 @04:45PM (#43885039)

      The common, cheap, FDM printers (the ones that squirt out hot plastic from a nozzle) can print just fine upside down. So obviously they will print fine with zero gravity.

      Nope. While they may work upside down, 0g can still be an issue. No convection causes major issues (heat does not rise in 0g). They might have fume or thermal problems. There may also be some issues with bearing, lubrication etc.

      Ever wonder what fire is like in 0g without convection? Its very strange, and might be what happens to the printer.

      • The ISS has an atmosphere inside, so heat convection shouldn't be a problem. If necessary, put it in a box with air driven through it to give circulation.

        • by Longjmp (632577)

          The ISS has an atmosphere inside, so heat convection shouldn't be a problem.

          Wrong. Convection needs gravity. Without it you'd generate a heat bubble.

          ...If necessary, put it in a box with air driven through it to give circulation.

          Right there; however, a simple air blower would do, no need to encapsulate the printer (actually that would be creating problems where none was before.)

          • In addition to buoyant convection there's heat driven air pressure changes that drive convection that are not dependant on gravity although they result in far less convective air flow, to the point where zero gravity flames can be smothered since the waste gas is moving away far more slowly than in an environment with gravity.
            So while there will be SOME heat loss from a hot object in microgravity due to convection it's a lot less than in 1g. The only place where there will be effectively zero heat loss due
    • Fluid materials behave differently in zero-g. For example, the surface tension of water is radically altered with and without gravity present. While it ultimately may not be an issue, I think it's worth mentioning.

  • Mind the toxic fumes.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Create a 3d printing process that works in a vacuum, then just eject any unwanted gasses?

      3d printing would be a boon if the materials are durable enough. They could likely save weight on replacement parts or at least make stop-gaps.

    • ISS has isolation containers called "glove boxes" for anything that might fume, or release small parts or dust. And in fact the 3d printer is built into its own glove-box, as is visible in every PR picture of the device on the most routine google search.

  • Until someone pays a Russian hacker a bunch of bitcoins to hack in, then uploads a 3d gun model. No one will be laughing then.
  • ...in all serious what of practical use could be made outside of plastic hand tools? Isn't most everything that is being used up there aside from a wrench and hammer dependent on some form of electronics? Don't get me wrong, like another poster said, the ISS is mainly to test to untested and uncertain - but what could practically be made out of nothing but plastics for use in space aside from hand tools?
    • by only_human (761334) * on Saturday June 01, 2013 @05:22PM (#43885289)

      How about the time they needed to repair a satellite and had to custom rig a "flyswatter" (made from a window shade, a vacuum hose and a piece of plastic) to snag a lever on the rotating satellite?
      Custom parts will always be needed for unanticipated situations.

    • In general it isn't for critical things, apparently the crew occasionally break small parts which are too low priority to be fitted into the next few flights. Things like switch covers and panel corners. Or expose a sharp edge on something after an equipment reshuffle. So they tend to bodge up parts out of scrap and tape. It's thought that a 3d printer would allow these unexpected minor needs to be met.

      (The rest is experimentation, and probably crew amusement.)

      But I'd be surprised if, before the ISS gets sp

  • If they are for a space station, then should be named replicators (even if they will be version 0.01). You can't build the right future without using the appropiate names for things.
    • by Trepidity (597)

      Someone seems to have already slapped a 'TM' on that [makerbot.com]...

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Solution: NASA Brand Replication Unit v0.001

        The Public will just call it a replicator anyway and the trademark will get watered down like Kleenex when it enters common usage once the technology matures.

  • "Uhhhhhhh.... ISS this is Houston. Why exactly are you downloading files named 'femalebodyparts.data'...."
  • Its often overlooked that even the best 3d printers can only produce something that is as strong and as as hard as the binding agent, so yes you could make parts out of corn starch or extruded abs its just not going to last very long in use.

    • I wonder why folks think they can use sand and plaster molds to make things out of metal? Everyone knows sandcastles don't stand up to wear and tear, and plaster is very brittle. It's just not going to last very long in use.

      • by Osgeld (1900440)

        cause they melt metal and fill the molds, they are not making a foundry on the ISS and there are cheaper and quicker ways of producing molds with more percision such as machining a one off part and packing sand around it tens of thousands of times.

        spending hours to print a single digit inch cubed part that still requires machining (by hand or machine) thats going to last a fraction of that is simply stupid, hince why NASA is nothing more than a houmorous think tank wasting piles of money for no results afte

  • by G3ckoG33k (647276) on Saturday June 01, 2013 @07:00PM (#43885805)

    Still, what jurisdiction would care?

    • All the Soyuz capsules are equipped with a 9mm Makarov pistol, including the ones docked with the ISS.

      (Before 2007 the Russians also flew a triple-barrel combination rifle/shotgun, the TP-82.)

  • How about inventing/building a 3-D printer *IN* the ISS that takes advantage of the fact that there is zero gravity?

    I mean, the print head could literally be floating and move in nearly any x/y/z direction freely. It would only need to be attached to the spool or whatever supplies the material to it, and a means of propulsion/movement within the space it is "printing" in.

    Yeah, it's a silly idea and probably makes no sense. Just daydreaming.

    • by decora (1710862)

      love the idea. it would be good to experiment with control systems.

      earth based 3d printing relies on gravity to stick the shape to the bed and on a static structure to ensure accurcy.

      in space its almost totally the control system

    • As gravity is a non issue at iss, you could make a little hexapod robot(s) with a printing head that just crawls over the object its printing and adds material where needed. Sort of like a wasp building its nest.That way you lose all size limitations, given enough material and time you could even build stuff outside like new modules and whatnot. Lots of material engineering problems to solve obviously, but these are the kinds of things what you can do if you forget about the gravity problem
  • I was at the BIL conference (at the same time as TED. Yes. And just down the street in Long Beach too) and the young man heading this spoke about the project. It sounds absolutely fascinating. The entire idea is to scale this up and eventually just launch raw materials into space or get them from asteroids or lunar regolith and print tools, structures, or anything else needed.

"Stupidity, like virtue, is its own reward" -- William E. Davidsen

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