NASA has begun funding a start-up that is looking to begin producing the first functioning zero gravity 3-D printers. While the company “Made in Space” already has a prototype at the International Space Station (ISS), a new model is expected to launch to the ISS on March 23, 2016.
In theory, the new model will allow astronauts to make a spare part, such as a valve, or craft experiments while in orbit. With 3-D printers, NASA would simply be shipping the raw materials required to fuel the printer.
“This new manufacturing process really opens the design space and allows for part geometries that would be impossible with traditional machining or casting methods,” said David Eddleman, a member of the 3-D printing team at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, in a recent press release. “For the valve designs on this engine, we used more efficient structures in the piece parts that resulted in optimized performance.”
In December, engineers at NASA tested 75 parts of a rocket engine that it had 3-D printed. While the injectors, valves and other parts didn’t look like traditional engine parts, they did the job and performed well.