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How 3D Printing Could Help Keep the ISS In Orbit 200

Posted by timothy
from the extension-by-extrusion dept.
Despite all the best intentions and meticulous overengineering, some of the equipment on spacecraft like the ISS inevitably breaks. An anonymous reader poses the question "Why carry out a very expensive launch into space to resupply the ISS, when astronauts could just manufacture replacement parts themselves?" Startup Made in Space is working on a space-oriented 3D printing system to make it easy to transmit the information needed to pop out complex shapes (as might be in delicate mechanical systems), but the founders are also talking about using 3D printers to jump-start construction if humans extend their presence from the Earth to other planets (or revisit the moon).
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How 3D Printing Could Help Keep the ISS In Orbit

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  • Materials (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ieatcookies (1490517) on Thursday December 15, 2011 @02:06PM (#38385480)
    It's a pretty cool way to manufacture things when you need them - no question there. Will this device be able to use it's own excess waste after making something? Will we have to ship tons of materials up only to ditch some large percentage of waste?
    • Re:Materials (Score:5, Informative)

      by GameboyRMH (1153867) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {hmryobemag}> on Thursday December 15, 2011 @02:39PM (#38386032) Journal

      With 3D printing there is little to no waste. That's why it's called additive manufacturing.

      The bigger issue is finishing, most 3D printed parts will need some. I'm sure they don't want metal or plastic filings floating around in the ISS, so that could be tricky.

      • Re:Materials (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Manfre (631065) on Thursday December 15, 2011 @02:58PM (#38386390) Homepage Journal

        There can be a lot of waste, depending on the part that is being printed. Fill material and the chemicals required to dissolve it would account for a majority of the waste.

        • by Adriax (746043)

          Metal particles made into a thick paste with some glue or other thick liquid that vaporizes nicely, melted into place with a laser.
          Make supports to places that need it with the same metal and cut them off with the same laser once the piece is complete.

          Probably all the pieces would be things like clips, pins, struts, ect... Nothing that requires a bunch of run off bits that require support when making.

      • by NevarMore (248971)

        With 3D printing there is little to no waste. That's why it's called additive manufacturing.

        The bigger issue is finishing, most 3D printed parts will need some. I'm sure they don't want metal or plastic filings floating around in the ISS, so that could be tricky.

        Just do what I do when I don't want to cleanup sawdust or shavings in my house, just pop outside.... oh right.

      • by durrr (1316311)
        Electron beam melting can be used to create high quality metal objects(no need to bake in oven as with sintered products), the drawback back here on earth is that you need a quite good vacuum to use it, shouldn't be a problem out in space.
      • by Raindance (680694)

        Additive manufacturing, or accretion printing, isn't wasteful. But having the ability to recycle printed parts back into raw plastic would be the big issue in space.

    • by garyrich (30652)

      Didn't we only recently have tons of material up there? Aluminum, plastics, all sorts of good stuff. But no, we just flew it back to put in a museum.

      • Didn't we only recently have tons of material up there? Aluminum, plastics, all sorts of good stuff. But no, we just flew it back to put in a museum.

        Yeah! Let's strand half a dozen people in orbit with a big pile of incompatible parts. That'll extend the life of the ISS.

    • I suspect for any part that can be made via 3D printing, the replaced part can be ground up into powder suitable for making a new part. Remember that the ISS is surrounded by lots of vacuum, and various materials have exhibited some interesting properties in a vacuum that they don't exhibit on Earth. For more details, especially regarding the "stickiness" a substance needs to make a part in a 3D printer, see this old idea [halfbakery.com].
  • Idea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by phrostie (121428) on Thursday December 15, 2011 @02:06PM (#38385484)

    I like the general concept here, but it isn't much more sustainable than sending up supplies.
    you still need to send up the raw material.

    now cool would be to make 3Dprinters work with materials refine-able from the surface of the moon or mars.
    instead of sending a new probe every few years, send a "Maker"
    it would have two parts.
    gatherer and a factory(with the 3Dprinter).

    transmit the new plans and away it goes.

    just thinking and rambling

    call it Thrambling

    • Re:Idea (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Kn45h3r (2472596) on Thursday December 15, 2011 @02:10PM (#38385562)
      The main advantage would be to reduce the amount of spare parts they need to keep on hand in case they need them in a hurry. Additionally broken parts could possibly be melted down and reused.
      • by 0123456 (636235)

        The main advantage would be to reduce the amount of spare parts they need to keep on hand in case they need them in a hurry. Additionally broken parts could possibly be melted down and reused.

        I've actually read some old NASA studies for taking the external tanks to a space station, melting them down and using the aluminium to build new structures. Obviously building girders or whatever is rather different to building complex mechanical or life support components.

        • Re:Idea (Score:4, Interesting)

          by TubeSteak (669689) on Thursday December 15, 2011 @02:30PM (#38385868) Journal

          I've actually read some old NASA studies for taking the external tanks to a space station, melting them down and using the aluminium to build new structures.

          Another old idea was to use the external tank as storage/habitable/engineering structures.
          That main tank weighs more and has more usable space than the max capacity of the shuttle.
          It's a crying shame that we spent a few decades bringing them to the edge of orbit, then letting them burn up in the atmosphere.

          • It's worth considering that they had a bit of hydrazine still inside, so they weren't exactly ready for human occupation...

            • Re:Idea (Score:5, Informative)

              by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Thursday December 15, 2011 @03:01PM (#38386440)

              It's worth considering that they had a bit of hydrazine still inside, so they weren't exactly ready for human occupation...

              Cut a hole in one end for the airlock/docking unit. Leave it open to space for a month, and the hydrazine problem should mostly evaporate.

              If there's still a bit of worry, then cover the hole, fill the tank with LOX and light a match, then repeat the "open to space, wait a month" thing.

              All this assuming, of course, that they had hydrazine in the LOX/LH2 external tank, which they didn't.

            • by Zorpheus (857617)
              It contains liquid nitrogen and liquid oxygen. So no problem after replacing the atmosphere.
            • The external tanks contained liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen (and helium to provide pressure). How did the hydrazine get in there?
            • by Smallpond (221300)

              Reusing the external tank gives you a shell but none of the guts. You still need power, insulation, temperature control, air purification and furnishings to make it habitable. All of this would have to be installed in space in zero-G. Its not obviously cheaper than constructing equivalent modules on the ground and putting them in orbit using one or more launches.

        • by wagnerrp (1305589)
          More interesting were the plans for 'wet workshops', where the external tanks themselves would be the space station.
      • I've never seen a 3D printer that could take recycle stock. RepRap Mendel doesn't; that would be an interesting project: a heated hopper that feeds raw feedstock into the extruder as a liquid stream, rather than a wire filament.
    • Re:Idea (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sarten-X (1102295) on Thursday December 15, 2011 @02:10PM (#38385568) Homepage

      I like the general concept here, but it isn't much more sustainable than sending up supplies. you still need to send up the raw material.

      Which could be included on the regularly-scheduled crew launches, like food. Having a stock of material on board means that if some part breaks, it's likely fixable without an extra unscheduled launch, which is currently a very expensive option.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        We also have to consider material type. You can't make a rubber gasket, or a hose.

        And you need to control for particulate waste from the machine.

        Not that we shouldn't send one, but lets recognize the limitations.

        • by rickb928 (945187)

          Gaskets are more of a 2-D problem, send them a Crikcut :)

          Hoses are surprisingly interchangeable. It's the fittings that are all the trouble. those are often fabricated onsite on Earth, and it might eventually be worth sending up a tool one day.

          • by Doc Ruby (173196)

            The linings of the hoses are not necessarily interchangeable, depending on what the hose carries.

    • If there was some means of recycling the broken part, then you wouldn't have to continually send up raw material supplies. Just throw the broken bits into the hopper, and out comes a brand new part.
      • by geekoid (135745)

        Newton would like a word with you.

        • Sorry, I should have said 'proverbial hopper'. Obviously, since a standard hopper is dependent on gravity for its operation, it will not work in space. Perhaps some sort of air driven cyclone hopper, or a pair of part sandwiching conveyor belts, or an augur system of some sort would work. I apologize for the confusion my post may have caused.
          • Oops! Auger not augur. I don't think sending a priest to feed the broken pieces into the remelting chamber is the best way of solving the problem
        • Newton would like a word with you.

          Why? It's not like Newton had much to do with thermodynamics as we currently understand it, assuming you were talking about perfect recycling.

          Even then there's nothing I know of in the laws of thermodynamics that prevents such a thing.

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      now cool would be to make 3Dprinters work with materials refine-able from the surface of the moon or mars.
      instead of sending a new probe every few years, send a "Maker"

      Yeah, it always seems cool until it becomes sentient and starts firing rocks at us...

      • by DarthBart (640519)

        The chances of that are a million to one. But still....

        • "The Cylons were created by Man.
          They were created to make life easier on the 12 Colonies.
          And then the day came when the Cylons decided to kill their Masters.
          After a long and bloody struggle, an armistice was declared.
          The Cylons left for another world to call their own.
          A remote space station was built where Cylon and Human could meet and maintain diplomatic relations.
          Every year the Colonials send an officer.
          The Cylons send no-one.
          No one has seen or heard from the Cylons in over forty years."

          Six: "Are you ali

      • To be fair their were humans fighting for their independence and even survival in the command loop on that one.
            Not to mention uninhabited areas were picked and plenty of warning was given.

        Mycroft
    • One advantage is that the raw supplies are inherently able to withstand the flight up there, so no investment has to be made into over-engineering the parts to survive being shaken to pieces by a rocket.

      The question I had is how the polymers they're using behave in vacuum; they'll almost certainly outgas like crazy. How strong/durable do the parts remain after a given amount of time in space? What about UV light? I'd love to see them do some materials testing before sending an expensive printer up only to f

      • Re:Idea (Score:5, Informative)

        by squidflakes (905524) on Thursday December 15, 2011 @02:33PM (#38385924) Homepage

        Volatile Organic Compounds are a huge problem in any sealed environment. Not only are there human health effects, but the effects on some delicate instruments and machinery can be quite severe. This is why there is a very tight list of approved materials that can be used for construction in human-rated space equipment.

        That whole "new-car smell" is pretty toxic when that's all you're breathing.

        • by Doc Ruby (173196)

          Seems like the people who make space capsules are experienced in making sealed subcompartments in which a gassy process can operate before yielding its products to the human occupied spaces.

      • by Doc Ruby (173196)

        Most of the parts would probably be used inside the shielded and pressurized compartments.

        The more universal challenge is the lifecycle performance (including during manufacturing) of the formation of the polymer materials in microgravity, and in orbital stresses.

    • by macraig (621737)

      The point here isn't improvement in sustainability; it's a foregone conclusion that the ISS and fledgling extraterrestrial colonies aren't sustainable.

      This is about JIT manufacturing and resupply. If something breaks, they likely need the replacement part NOW, not whenever the next Soyuz can happen to float past.

      • by wagnerrp (1305589)
        To me, that sounds like an improvement in sustainability. You're still going to require semi-regular supplies of food and more complex equipment, but a macroscale constructor would allow them a greater level of self-sufficiency.
        • by macraig (621737)

          Self-sufficiency is not the same thing as sustainability. Yes, it increases self-sufficiency, but no, it doesn't improve sustainability as defined in the environmental context.

    • by ssyladin (458003)

      Well, if you are shipping up a spool of feed material wire (a la MakerBot), or even powder cartriges, then they'll likely be able to better tolerate a brutal high-g launch than delicate, precision tuned parts manufactured on earth. Now you can use linear induction launch methods (rail gun launchers) and high-g launch systems to more cheaply get the raw materials into orbit, and transform them once they're up there. Plus, its very likely you'd save on packaging overhead (less padding & whatnot), loweri

    • by andyring (100627)

      "Computer - tea, Earl gray, hot."

    • by necro81 (917438)
      Some 3D printing solutions spread a layer of powder, then bind it together by selectively printing glue. Drop the stage by one layer, spread more powder, print binder, repeat. This is the technology used by Z-Corporation for their products.

      In this case, you'd be sending up big tanks of binder, and using the abundant regolith of the moon to create solid objects.

      Unfortunately, this would only be appropriate for making a small minority of the kinds of things you need on a lunar colony. You could use i
    • by Yakasha (42321)

      I like the general concept here, but it isn't much more sustainable than sending up supplies. you still need to send up the raw material.

      Absolutely wrong. It is far more efficient to just send up blocks of various materials, ala printer cartridges, instead of trying to predict when and how often specific parts will fail and need to be replaced.

      You could send up 10 type A widgets, 10 type B widgets, 8 type C widgets, and be absolutely screwed should your 8th type C widget die while you still have 9 type A widgets collecting space dust... or you could just send up the equivalent weight of raw materials and print up whatever widget you need as

    • It could even manufacture and assemble another 3D printer if the need be, what could go wrong?

  • by Sfing_ter (99478) on Thursday December 15, 2011 @02:08PM (#38385524) Homepage Journal

    Let's get rid of the formalities here... and call it what we are all thinking it is... A REPLICATOR. (albeit a very basic one, but still...)
    Unless of course there is a "royalty" fee attached to calling something that replicates items a REPLICATOR...

    • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Thursday December 15, 2011 @02:24PM (#38385802)

      Let's get rid of the formalities here... and call it what we are all thinking it is... A REPLICATOR.

      For the love of GOD I hope you're talking about the Star Trek kind, not the Stargate kind of Replicator.

      • try asking one of those things for a cup of tea...

        • by jd (1658)

          No matter what you ask for, it keeps giving this strange liquid that tastes almost entirely unlike tea. Trying to explain the concept to it, but it's requested the aid of Eddie and all systems have shut down. Just as a Vogon constructor fleet is attacking. Damn.

    • Let's get rid of the formalities here... and call it what we are all thinking it is... A REPLICATOR. (albeit a very basic one, but still...) Unless of course there is a "royalty" fee attached to calling something that replicates items a REPLICATOR...

      No, it's not a replicator. Main reason is that it is extruding metals and plastics to print; while a replicator would work at the atomic level using only energy to make the device; probably utilizing quantum mechanics to control the energy flows and make the desired atoms. Yeah, replicators are still far beyond us.

  • Base materials (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gmuslera (3436) * on Thursday December 15, 2011 @02:09PM (#38385548) Homepage Journal
    Sometimes is not enough that a part have certain (maybe complex or delicate) shape, but also the materials that make it. Until you have true replicators this could make quick plastic fixes, but won't be a generic solution for all kind of problems. And, of course, you need to lift whatever uses the printer to make the parts.
    • Re:Base materials (Score:4, Informative)

      by DerekLyons (302214) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (retawriaf)> on Thursday December 15, 2011 @02:29PM (#38385854) Homepage

      Sometimes is not enough that a part have certain (maybe complex or delicate) shape, but also the materials that make it.

      This. And it's something proponents of 3D printing regularly miss - there's more to a physical part than just it's shape. Things like conductivity, strength, creep resistance, reactivity, etc... etc.. matter. They matter a great deal, and it's why the ISS isn't all made of a single material to start with.
       

      And, of course, you need to lift whatever uses the printer to make the parts.

      The counter to this argument is that you have to lift the parts too... but that leads to *another* thing that many people that have commented so far are missing - time. It takes time to print the part, while a spare can simply be unwrapped and installed straight away. With 3D printing, your MTTR (Mean Time To Repair) goes way, way up.

      • It takes time to print the part, while a spare can simply be unwrapped and installed straight away. With 3D printing, your MTTR (Mean Time To Repair) goes way, way up.

        Assuming, of course, that you have the spare part in site, this is true.

        On the other hand, if it has to be delivered by Soyuz, you might be waiting for a while. Months, perhaps...

        Note that for operations farther from Earth, being able to make spares from generic materials is a major advance - instead of thousands (tens of thousands) of spar

  • by icebike (68054) * on Thursday December 15, 2011 @02:10PM (#38385556)

    Are the materials that 3D printing is capable of using able to stand up to the tasks required of them?

    It has been my understanding that most of the materials used are plastic, and not just any plastic will do, and
    metal parts (if even possible) are simply not the same as cast and machined parts, either in strength or
    precision.

    Further this is done with powdered media, which will require advanced containment in a weightless environment, and a fair amount of power to operate the equipment. These machines aren't small enough yet to launch and install easily, so getting it there would be a problem.,

    Further, the media plastic needs to be replaced often, sifted and cleaned/recycled.

    In the final analysis, given the state of the art of 3d printing, I suspect it would be cheaper to launch each part as needed than it would be to launch a fresh batch of media to make each part.

    Then there is the whole issue of the real value of the ISS, which has largely become a Russian playground with
    no real mission, and the service life was planned to end in 2015, recently extended to 2020. The Russians want
    to extend it to 2028 [space-travel.com], with nothing but a pie in the sky mission statement.

    • by AdrianKemp (1988748) on Thursday December 15, 2011 @02:31PM (#38385894)

      They're starting to use 3d printing in aircraft parts because they can print more complex, lighter and stronger shapes with the printers. This is being done with metal.

      However, I've absolutely no doubt that the machines that are doing it are not the sort of thing that you'll be able to put on the ISS.

      The moon, on the other hand, that's something worth considering.

      • by necro81 (917438)

        They're starting to use 3d printing in aircraft parts because they can print more complex, lighter and stronger shapes with the printers. This is being done with metal.

        A lot of those printed parts are still machined after the fact, because in many cases you need smooth, flat, round, toleranced, etc. geometry to interface with with parts. Using 3D printing of metal is a faster and cheaper way of doing low-volume prototype and production than casting, but cast parts are rarely used straight-from-the-mold.

        • Well, that's true and false at the same time...

          In many cases the reason they're printing them in the first place is because they *can't* be machined the way they want, so machining after the fact isn't an option.

          This is an example, not actually being used in production as far as I know; but the idea is that it will be.
          http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/38352/?mod=MagOur [technologyreview.com]

          However you're right about the tolerance and smoothness. The part I linked and others like it don't need to be perfect around the edges

    • Printing 3D in metals has been around for a long time - it's just more expensive then printing in plasic.

      Materialise makes a 3D printer that can print titanium hip replacements. Because it can print in 3D it can replicate the structure of bones (i.e. lots of small holes) - So you get something lighter without diminishing strength.

  • you need to take the material with you any ways? 3d Printers don't create something from nothing.

    That said, ans a universal tool to hedge against running out of some unplanned for part, then it's a good idea.

    Better if it can use material found at the locate we go to, saw Mars.

    • by wagnerrp (1305589)
      There have actually been proposals for a robot that would harvest Calcium Oxide and Aluminate from the lunar soil, and combine them with subsurface water as a form of cement. It would then proceed to build sealed domes that could be used for a future base, protected from radiation and micrometeorites.
  • by JBMcB (73720) on Thursday December 15, 2011 @02:16PM (#38385682)

    The ISS is super cool - the idea of a permanent human presence in near-space is awesome. However, it's kind of a colossal waste of money, in terms of hard science done per dollar spent. I don't think there's a single experiment done up there that couldn't be done autonomously. I don't think we're learning much more about living in space that hasn't already been explored in Skylab or Mir.

    If the point of the ISS is to inspire people, then the mission should have been more inspiring, instead of parking people in orbit for a while, which has already been done. How about sending components to the moon to build an orbital spaceyard? Launching deep-space missions from the moon would be much more efficient, if we can manage to get the machinery up there.

    • The whole point of the ISS is to develop techniques for long term manned presence in space. Just sitting there staring out the porthole goes a long way to doing that. You don't need to do 'science'. Learning what materials work and don't work, how to fix things (a biggy), how to build things, the boring mechanics of just supplying the thing for years and keeping the crew sane - that's important.

      The Russians are apparently fond of space rated duct tape for repairs. A 3D printer that was space rated could

  • by wierd_w (1375923) on Thursday December 15, 2011 @02:41PM (#38386076)

    I realize that with the activities of the "for the children!" Groups out there that it is easy to presume everything is made of plastic these days, but this simply isn't true.

    I would be willing to bet money that the vast majority of the innards of the ISS's superstructure is mostly made from 2024 or 7075 aluminum alloy, sprayed with hexavalent cromium primer.

    Those are the two most commonly used aluminum alloys used in aerospace fabrication (I make prints citing them all the time at work), and for strength reasons these need to be heat treated in most circumstances after being formed or milled. A powder or paste based prototype printer just won't be able to produce these alloys, because the desired mechanical properties are a result of the metalurgical crystaline structures present in them after annealing and heat treating. That is, unless you want to ship a whole annealing oven and solution heat treatment system up there... (just so you know, that equipment isn't light.)

    For composite materials, conventional heat shaped plastics are not common either. Usually a thermally cured resin material is used, such as with phenolic, or with carbon fiber composite. Doing thse in space would be a nightmare, since not only do you deal with a sticky, honey like liquid with toxic fumes, and the curing oven, you also need a vacuum bag machine and the finished product must be sanded, creating tiny (toxic) particles to float around the ventilation system.

    I could see a prototype maching puking out ceramic paste parts prior to electric kilning, or plastic parts, but not the main structural parts made from alloy or composites.

    I don't see the justification for the added launch expense of bringing one and its consumables along.

  • by Pvt_Waldo (459439) on Thursday December 15, 2011 @02:42PM (#38386092)

    The OP asks, "Why carry out a very expensive launch into space to resupply the ISS..." and the answer is pretty simple...

    It's expensive to boost mass up into orbit. 3D printers take raw materials to print with. It's either send up the raw materials for the 3D printer to use, or send up the finished product, and pay for that launch. One could I suppose harvest space junk and asteroids and use that material, but that's not going to come cheap either.

    Note, this is the truth of the ISS. Something like a base on Mars or the Moon, that's another story. Then it's worth figuring out how to utilize the local resources to feed a 3D printer.

  • What I didn't see was a good explanation of what the most common spare parts needed were? What exactly wears out? Can those broken pieces even be safely swapped out in the first place?

    All that said, a CNC and a carefully picked set of raw chunks of aluminum should work. Sadly though, you'd have to wear out a lot of parts before you could justify the weight versus an equivalent weight of spare parts.

    Lastly, given that the ISS is a manned station, it will see regular resupply every several months. I just

    • by wierd_w (1375923)

      No joke!

      A cnc machine is built heavier than big momma's fat ass, and for a good reason! They are built to be as heavy as possible, so that the accoustic vibrations and mechanical actuator movement inside will not jack with table and spindle positioning in a meaningful way. (They weigh so much that it takes epic shittons of energy to move them. That's the point.)

      They are made that way so the machine can have the .001 inch and tighter machine tolerances required for aerospace.

      They weigh several tons, even for

  • by ThatsNotPudding (1045640) on Thursday December 15, 2011 @02:45PM (#38386152)
    "PC Load Letter???"
  • ...presence from the Earth to other planets...

    I suppose those other planets would be "the Mars" or "the Venus." I know, it's pedantic, but good grief I how I do hate that article when used in front of the name of our planet.

    Not posting AC because, well, that would be cowardly despite the negative votes I will get, for both "off-topic" and "troll."

  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Thursday December 15, 2011 @03:04PM (#38386490) Homepage Journal

    Even if this project isn't necessary (or more useful than alternatives), it is totally worth doing for its own sake. The ISS should launch the era of space based manufacturing. That R&D will give us a huge jump into issues of microgravity and orbital mechanics, as well as 100% recycling/reuse of manufacturing byproducts. But it will also move forward both automated and remote manufacturing, especially of short-run items, that will improve manufacturing here on Earth.

    It will give us a reason to exploit the nearby near-vacuum, and other local environment resources (eg. direct solar - in large quantities, but also causing very high temperature gradients in light/shade). Hard radiation and solar wind could help us make things that are impossible or prohibitively expensive on Earth. And it will also create demand for harvesting planetoid resources, whether the Moon, asteroids or other interplanetary matter. Which will bootstrap the further exploitation of the solar system.

    Space-based manufacturing is how we should make the things that we disperse around the solar system, instead of launching the matter out of Earth's gravity well. We should be launching only what we need to make devices that make things. We should be able to transmit data and instructions for making new machines, some of which will take new data and instructions for making newer machines. Some of these machines can be very large - like other orbital stations, or other probes to launch. We should get started making things in orbit that can be landed on the Moon to start a base there, exploiting Lunar materials for further manufacturing.

    And all of these improvements will bring better manufacturing back to Earth, even if only in lessons learned.

    The ISS was worth doing for its own sake. What an achievement! It inspires the world. But now that it's largely completed, it should be our platform for projects that aren't an end in themselves. Moving humanity's tool use into effective use and occupation of the extraterrestrial neighborhood will be a vast dividend that will never stop paying us back.

  • Why stop at launching a 3D printer into orbit?

    Imagine a 3D printer that can print itself! Wouldn't that be great?

    But, why stop there? Let us say the 3D printer that can mine raw materials to be used as "ink"! But the source material could be different in different planets. So it would just carry the logic and print itself the proper attachment suitable for each environment. But the 3D printer itself is made up of the ink. So one 3D printer can "eat" another 3D printer and recycle the material. May be th

  • Let's get a list from NASA of All the Things That Have Broken on the ISS (they like lists, I'm sure they have one), and ask, "How many of these things could we have made with a 3d printer?" I'm betting the answer is "not many".

    When the plastic blade of a ventilator fan breaks, a 3d printer has got you covered. When a SDRAM chip gets fried or a tungsten heater filament inside a sealed vacuum tube melts, you're screwed.

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.

Working...