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Report Brings 3-D Printing in Space Back Down to Earth

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3-D printing in space could be more hype than promise. A new report from the National Research Council concludes it’s too soon for “additive manufacturing,” as 3-D printing technology is also called, to be a significant boost to space operations. In theory, 3-D printers could let astronauts make replacement parts in space instead of having them delivered at high cost from Earth. But the report says there are too many unknowns — like the impact of the vacuum of space, zero gravity and intense heat fluctuations — for that to become an immediate reality.

"Many of the claims made in the popular press about this technology have been exaggerated,” said Robert Latiff, chair of the committee that wrote the report. “For in-space use, the technology may provide new capabilities, but it will serve as one more tool in the toolbox, not a magic solution to tough space operations and manufacturing problems.” The study was sponsored by NASA and the U.S. Air Force. NASA is teaming up with 3-D printing company Made in Space to send a 3-D printer to the International Space Station later this year.

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