ESA launches 3D printer on the ISS for the first time to print metal parts

The European Space Agency (ESA) has launched a 3D printer to the International Space Station (ISS) for the first time to print metal parts, reports Engadget.

The 180 kg device was sent to the space station on January 30 as part of the Cygnus NG-20 mission. It was developed for ESA by Airbus. Astronaut Andreas Mogensen from Denmark will install the printer on the ISS. After that, the device will be controlled from the Earth.

Polymer-based 3D printers have been used on the ISS in the past. But 3D printing of metals in orbit is considered a more difficult task.

The machine will use stainless steel. ESA emphasizes the importance of the safety of the crew and the station itself, as the operation of a 3D printer for printing metal parts involves higher temperatures.

It is planned that four test prints will be made on the ISS. The printer will operate for no more than four hours a day. If successful, the strength, conductivity, and stiffness of the metal will raise the potential of space 3D printing to a new level.