When International Space Station Commander Barry Wilmore needed a wrench, NASA knew just what to do. They “e-mailed” him one. This is the first time an object has been designed on Earth and then transmitted to space for manufacture.
Made In Space, the California company that designed the 3D printer aboard the ISS, overheard Wilmore mentioning the need for a ratcheting socket wrench and decided to create one. Previously, if an astronaut needed a specific tool it would have to be flown up on the next mission to the ISS, which could take months.
This isn’t the first 3D-printed object made in space, but it is the first created to meet the needs of an astronaut. In November astronauts aboard the ISS printed a replacement part for the recently installed 3D printer. A total of 21 objects have now been printed in space, all of which will be brought back to Earth for testing.
This is a first that will become much more common as we build a space economy.
Someone in space needed a new tool. Instead of waiting for months while the tool was designed and constructed on Earth before being brought into space, an email carried the specificatons for the tool.
That were then used to build the tool with a 3D printer at the site.
No need to have a design team in space, along with a large foundry. Just some wireless communications.
Thus the ability to make new tools as well as replacement parts in space will be greatly facilitated by 3D printing.