The first 3D printer built to operate in space successfully began manufacturing on the International Space Station (ISS) early Tuesday morning. This is the first time that hardware has been additively manufactured in space, as opposed being launched from Earth. The first part made in space is a functional part of the printer itself – a faceplate for its own extruder printhead.

For the entirety of the space program, tools and parts have been built on Earth and required a rocket to get to space. The presence of a 3D printer onboard the ISS will allow hardware designs to be made on Earth and then digitally beamed to the space station, where the physical object can be created in hours, says NASA.

The “3D Printing in Zero-Gravity Experiment” is being jointly conducted by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) and Made In Space, which designed and built the 3D printer for NASA through their Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

Following the initial printing phase, NASA and Made In Space will be conducting additional additive manufacturing experiments onboard ISS. A second printer will be launched to the ISS next year.

[Image courtesy: NASA]

Update: 06-05-16