Nasa to send 3D printer into space in 2014

International Space Station

US space agency Nasa is planning to launch a 3D printer into space next year to help astronauts manufacture essential parts in zero gravity.

One of the biggest obstacles to space exploration is that you need to take everything with you: food, tools, equipment, spare parts - the lot.

Being able to print parts instead would reduce the cost of missions and allow astronauts to produce the things they need on-demand, allowing them to travel farther from the Earth.

It will be the first time a 3D printer has been used in space.

Parts printed using a 3D printer Tools, spare parts and equipment could all be 3D printed

The 3D printer will be about the size of a microwave oven and will have to be able to withstand very shaky lift-off vibrations and operate safely in an enclosed space station environment.

Read more: How does 3D printing work?

Nasa is also experimenting 3D printing small satellites that could be launched from the International Space Station and then transmit data to Earth.

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