NASA puts “Star Trek Replicator” on Space Station

NASA is also investigating the idea of using a 3D printer to create food for astronauts

A 3D printer which will fly to the International Space Station next year has been likened to Star Trek’s Replicator by an astronaut who spent six months on the ISS.

In Star Trek, the machines could create any inanimate object out of thin air

NASA’s version has been created by Made in Space specifically to work on the International Space Station - and will create spare parts “on demand” for astronauts.

Timothy Creamer, a NASA astronaut who spent time on the ISS said, “It provides us the ability to do our own Star Trek “replication” on the spot. It helps us replace things we’ve lost - or things we’ve broken - and to make anything we have thought of that could be useful.”

“We need a lot of tools on the space station, we carry them around with us and we lose them - the ability not to have to launch it to resupply ourselves is most convenient.”

The Apollo 13 crew famously fixed carbon dioxide filters during their mission using duct tape and cardboard log book covers, after an oxygen tank exploded in 1970.

The Made in Space printer recently passed “Zero G” tests on parabolic flights, and will launch on a Space X supply flight to the ISS next summer.

Made in Space’s makers envisage a future where it could print out spacecraft, tiny CubeSats which could be launched from the ISS.

“Imagine an astronaut needing to make a life-or-death repair on the International Space Station,” says Aaron Kemmer, CEO of Made in Space. “Rather than hoping that the necessary parts and tools are on the station already, what if the parts could be 3D printed when they needed them?”

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All space missions today are completely dependent on Earth and the launch vehicles that send equipment to space.

The Made in Space 3D Printer is built specifically to work in space and uses extrusion additive manufacturing, which builds objects layer by layer out of polymers and other materials.

NASA is also investigating the idea of using a 3D printer to create food for astronauts.

NASA awarded a research grant to Systems and Materials Research Consultancy of Austin, Texas to study the feasibility of using additive manufacturing, better known as 3D printing, for making food in space.

NASA admits it will be “years” before such out-there technologies are used.

The space agency is also investigating a 3D printer that could not only print out food - but also living flesh, which could be used for transplants.

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If an astronaut lost a body part, the printer could “secrete” cells to replace it.

The printer would create 3D arrays of cells using Martian atmospheric gases and rocks - to create everything from organic to “novel, biologically derived materials not previously possible to fabricate.”

“Imagine being able to print anything from tools and composite building materials to food and human tissues,” the space agency says. “Imagine being on Mars with the ability to replace any broken part, whether it's a part of your spacesuit, your habitat, or your own body.”