Made in Space - The accelerating advancement of 3D printing (or additive manufacturing) has brought about a whole new use of space; because of the absence of gravity, 3D printing can be used to create astonishing objects which will have great value back on planet Earth. On the other hand, even simple terrestrial every day objects are very expensive to transport into space, and 3D printing can be used to “carry” an entire inventory of spare parts in the form of only data, raw material, and the means to combine the two.
Over the past several years, additive manufacturing has become the golden child of process engineering. This is because it allows parts to be made faster, more cheaply and in some cases to be made at all. Now space engineers are looking at additive processing technology as a means for allowing astronauts on extended missions to build their own replacement parts during their trek, rather than relying on carrying tons of spare parts with them.
Because no one can predict which parts on a spacecraft might fail during a long trip, tons of spare parts would need to be carried along to ensure a safe and productive trip, unless most of those parts could be created on the fly by the astronauts themselves.