Expedition 42 Commander Barry Wilmore of NASA holds up the first object printed aboard the ISs by the new 3D printing machine.
"Butch" Wilmore, commander of the current Expedition 42 aboard the ISS, installed the 3D printer a couple of weeks ago on November 17th. In coordination with ground engineer teams, calibration tests were made on November 20. Finally ready on November 24, the controllers sent a command to the printer to create a copy of the faceplate of the casing of the printer. This act proves that the machine can, in fact, make some replacement parts for itself. Then the next day, Commander Wilmore removed the part and inspected it. It was discovered that the adhesion of the printed object to its production tray was very strong, more than anticipated. There is some speculation that the material's bonding may be slightly different due to the Zero-G situation. After each printed object is made, analysis will help the engineers fine-tune the device to prepare it for full operational status.
Picture of the 3D printer before launch and some of the objects that are planned to be printed in space.
The 3D printer on the ISS was designed and built by Made In Space, Inc. based in Moffat Field, California. All of the parts that will be printed will eventually be flown back to Earth for greater study. With the cancellation of the Space Shuttle, that would have been difficult due to the limitations on what can be carried down from orbit on the Soyuz return capsules. However, with the success of the SpaceX Dragon cargo spaceship, experiments and equipment can be safely returned to Earth for further studies.