Mike Chen, Made in Space co-founder and chief strategy officer, said the 3D printer sent in space will be part of a largely proof-of-concept flight in which astronauts use the device to demonstrate its functionality in the capsule, The Christian Science Monitor reported Monday.
While astronauts initially will use the 3D printer to create spare parts and tools for the space station, Chen said he hopes other creative types on Earth get a chance to flex their inventive muscle by developing designs for science experiments, innovative projects and artwork.
If all goes well, a permanent version of the 3D printer will be sent to the International Space Station in 2015, said Chen of the Mountain View, Calif., company.
"The paradigm shift that we want everyone to understand is: instead of launching things to space, just print it there," Chen said. "Why would you go through all the energy to build it here and launch it, when you can just build it there?"
Having 3D printing capability on the ISS would expand possibilities for the materials that can be produced in orbit and experiments performed in space, he told the Monitor.
"Things in space are vastly over-engineered, really, for the first 8 minutes of its existence," Chen said. "Think about what you can do now that you have 3D printing capabilities on orbit. For the first time, we'll be able to design things for space that don't ever have to exist in a gravity environment."