3D printing is going out of this world, literally. Early Saturday morning, a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship will carry the first operating 3D printer to the International Space Station, allowing astronauts to print essential tools for their missions.
"This is the first time that our species, humanity, has built tools off planet Earth," said Aaron Kemmer, CEO of Made in Space, the company behind the innovative technology.
While 3D printing technology has emerged in recent years to build tools for a range of industries including the medical field, the Zero-G Printer is the first of its kind for manufacturing in space.
The four-year-old company's core challenge was creating a printer that is able to withstand the shaky movement during a launch. Made in Space developed additive manufacturing technology to use in a zero gravity environment, and developers performed over 30,000 hours of testing to prepare for the space station debut.
The Zero-G Printer mission, contracted as the "3D Printing in Zero-G Experiment," will be used as a testing ground to study the technology further and streamline advanced manufacturing on demand.
"Space has a supply chain problem," Kemmer told CNET.com's Sumi Das. "It's very difficult to get things from Point A to Point B. With a 3D printer, or 3D printing technology, you can just get around that entire paradigm, and essentially email your hardware to space."
While the printer can only create small tools, developers say that larger items can be assembled from combining a number of printed pieces.
Made in Space developers say that they hope to take 3D printing in space to the next level. In the future, they intend to use 3D printers to create objects using materials found in space, specifically the surface of the moon.