NASA is planning to take a 3D printer into space by the end of next year and use it to create objects onboard the International Space Station (ISS).
Manufactured by Made in Space in collaboration with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the shoe-box sized machine is the first 3D printer customised to withstand conditions of space travel and operate in microgravity conditions.
According to De Zeen, the device will be used to print small replacement parts on demand for the ISS and the crew, including belts, clips and other components, tools and equipment.
Before the 3D printer gets the go ahead it must first complete a test flight at the end of the summer.
If successful, the finished printer will be flown to the ISS in 2014, aboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
The teams are reported to have been working on the technology since 2011 and have so far tested the 3D printer on three sub-orbital flights.
The device is fully enclosed in metal and comes with a glass window that prevents material from escaping into the ISS and allows astronauts to monitor the progress of the object being printed.
Like other 3D printers, the device uses a process known as additive manufacturing that adds layers one on top of another in order to create a product.
NASA is also using 3D printers here on earth to print rocket engines injectors that are capable of withstanding extremely high temperatures.