There is now a 3D printer on the International Space Station

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Credit: Made in Space

An astronaut installed a 3D printer on the International Space Station (ISS) this morning — a big first that could change how the station’s inhabitants go about their daily lives.

The printer, which is made by Bay Area startup Made in Space, arrived at the ISS on Sept. 22 aboard SpaceX’s Dragon cargo ship. It had to wait to be installed while astronauts concentrated on time-sensitive experiments, such as a group of mice.

It will first print 22 parts to test how it performs in space, followed by a second batch of undetermined items. Made in Space will use what it learns to build a second printer that will be installed permanently in 2015.

The Made in Space printer onboard the International Space Station.

The Made in Space printer onboard the International Space Station.

The printer will be available to companies and institutions interested in performing experiments in space. But the astronauts on the ISS will also be able to replace parts, print extra supplies and respond to emergency situations that up until now have required some serious MacGyver-ing to solve.

“We have really high expectations for it printing,” Made in Space CTO Jason Dunn said in September. “We’ve done all the zero gravity research we could on the airplane. (But) there’s always the things we can’t test that you can only do once you’re up there.”

Next year, Made in Space’s machine will be joined by another 3D printer designed and built in Italy. The POP3D printer is much smaller than Made in Space’s, measuring in at 9.8 inches long. It will spend a half hour printing one part that will then be returned to Earth for tests.

A movable handle and gears with a Made in Space 3D printer.

A movable handle and gears with a Made in Space 3D printer.

“Europe does have a lead in this technology — the latest laser machines are coming from here for export to the US and China — so we should build on that,” space technology company OHB engineering services head Reinhard Schlitt said in a release.

Photos by Made in Space and Signe Brewster.

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