Every so often, NASA sends a capsule full of seemingly random items to the International Space Station. Over the years, these grab bags have included everything from Pizza Hut pizza to Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber.
But most of the time, these deliveries are packed with the necessary supplies for astronauts to conduct critical experiments, which is why the crew at the International Space Station just received a 3D printer.
This printer isn’t the first one to reach the ISS, though it is unique. According to reports, the newest additive device arrives in support of the Redwire Regolith Print project. This effort intends to prove the ability to use regolith, which is basically material on the moon’s surface comprised of sand and rocks, as a 3D printing material.
Scientists believe that if they can prove the ability to print with regolith, it opens some doors for future colonization efforts. For example, if follow up tests on the 3D printed regolith prove the material is durable enough, it could allow for future colonists to build structures on location in outer space, instead of shipping heavy and costly materials like concrete or steel to the moon.
Or… to Mars. Because the Redwire Regolith Project isn’t just satisfied with Moon-specific efforts — astronauts also want to discover if regolith printing could be workable on the Red Planet as well.
The tests will incorporate another 3D printer, dubbed the Made In Space Manufacturing Device, that’s already been involved in many additive manufacturing experiments on the ISS.
NASA has also already been running experiments here on earth, including ones that use simulated regolith. Last Fall, NASA announced that AI SpaceFactory – a construction technology company that won the agency’s 3D Printed Habitat Challenge — would work with the Kennedy Space Center to “mature new planetary construction technologies.” According to AI SpaceFactory founder David Malott, “3D printing with local resources is a far more sustainable alternative to building with concrete and steel,” and that the technology being developed could even be “a game-changer for how things are built on Earth.”