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It was interesting to read this week, that NASA awarded $6.8 billion in contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to transport astronauts to the International Space Station. The Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract will enable the launch of astronauts from the U.S. to the International Space Station by the end of 2017.

At present, NASA has to rely on the Russian space agency who charges probably the most expensive “taxi” fee ever, at up to $71m per seat. So NASA has turned to two private companies as part of its Commercial Crew Program with the goal “to establish safe, reliable and cost effective access to space” according to NASA’s website

Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Dragon are both 7 passenger capsules that will also be fitted to carry cargo. A cargo carrying version of Dragon has already delivered cargo to the International Space Station.

Space Travel for all?

The Boeing and SpaceX contracts are further examples of private companies looking to space as its “final frontier”. In February, Richard Branson’s much publicized dream of commercial space flights came closer to reality when Virgin Galactic signed a deal with US aviation authorities to let it “rocket” your everyday millionaire into space. It isn’t going to be one of those budget airlines just yet, as the 600+ people who have signed up to date can expect to pay $250,000 for a seat.

Delivering a 3D Printer to a Space Station near you

In 2012, the SpaceX Dragon became the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the space station, and this week (September 20th), will carry the first 3-D printer into space. The 3-D printer, produced by a company aptly named Made in Space, has been modified and tested to function in zero-gravity environments.  The goal is that astronauts will one day be able to print replacement parts “on-demand” which could revolutionize the constrained supply chain and parts inventory required today. After all, you can’t exactly “order that part” if you are half way to Mars.

Earlier this year, NASA awarded a contract to study the feasibility of using 3D printing, for making food in space. I suppose that if I had to spend three months on the International Space Station there would be a point when I could not face any more freeze dried dinners and would kill my fellow astronaut for a slice of printed pizza.

Seeing 3D in Space without Glasses!

Printers won’t be the only 3D seen in space. Increasingly we are seeing 3D visualizations being utilized to assemble and service complex machinery and equipment, whether on the ground or in the atmosphere. So while the 3D printer is making replacement parts, 3D visual enterprise solutions can be put into action to help guide the astronaut in making the needed repair with easy to follow step-by-step 3D animations. 3D is also driving assembly processes on the ground to help build the transport modules and in space to make complex repairs simpler, faster and more efficient.

So as we move into privatized space travel, we are seeing innovation and technology driving companies like Boing and SpaceX into unchartered territory, and in the near future, where “no man has been before”.

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  1. Raymond Adams

    3D parts in space makes perfect sense, assuming the composite is compatible with the replacement.  For food, I don’t quite get it.  the composite is still food, so why do you need a printer/3D?  It merely changes the shape of the food?  someone please explain 3D food to me!

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