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posted 07 March 2016 at 08:54:01

On March 23, 2016, NASA will blast a 'zero-gravity' 3D printer (Zero-G) into deepest space. Designed to help the six-strong crew of the International Space Station (ISS) print spare parts via digital designs sent from Earth, the printer will be the first manufacturing device ever to operate in space and is the first step towards having an on-demand machine shop in space.

Andrew Rush, Chief Executive of Made in Space, the company that has developed the printer, says, "You can bring us a USB stick with your file and we can digitally send it into space. Via 3D printing, we can make that object and completely avoid putting it on a rocket."

This basically means that, instead of launching rockets that cost hundreds of million of dollars into space every time an item or tool is required, astronauts will be able to print the components themselves. The printer also lends itself to using new materials only available in space, such as Moon dust and asteroids. According to NASA, 3D printing could prove to be the 'pinnacle of outsourced manufacturing'.

"This new manufacturing process really opened the design space and allowed for part geometries that would be impossible with traditional machining or casting methods," says David Eddleman, one of the 3D printing team at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Centre.