The 3-D items built on the International Space Station returned to earth last April and are now undergoing testing. “At the most basic level, the parts were visually inspected to reconfirm what we saw in orbit – that the parts, from a macroscopic level, printed as advertised like they did on the ground,” says Rush. Made In Space and NASA are currently performing a series of nondestructive and destructive testing, including X-ray analyses and compression and flexural testing.

3DP installed Zero-G Printer

The Zero-G Printer was installed on the International Space Station in the fall of 2014. “We’re focused heavily on space, but you can see how this technology could be useful on a submarine, on the sea, in Antarctica or in some other remote location,” says Andrew Rush, president of Made In Space.

Made In Space also is working on the next generation 3-D printer. “The Zero-G Printer was a technology demonstrator – the beating heart and brain of a 3-D printer,” says Rush. “But it wasn’t the full package.” The next version, called the additive manufacturing facility (AMF), will print on an expanded range of materials, including ABS, high-density polyethylene and polyetherimide/polycarbonate. It will feature an environmental control system and independent power system. The AMF also is designed to be very modular and simple to upgrade so astronauts can easily swap out parts, such as the extruder.

Made In Space’s goal is to partner with other companies to ultimately manufacture multimaterial, complex applications not just on the International Space Station, but throughout the galaxy and in a vacuum. In October, the company teamed with hardware retailer Lowe’s to launch the first commercial 3-D printer in space. Together they will bring tools and technology to astronauts on the International Space Station. So when crew members like Commander Wilmore lose a wrench, they can do what many people would in that situation – turn to Lowe’s for a replacement.