NASA is preparing to launch a 3D printer into space next year, a toaster-sized game changer that greatly reduces the need for astronauts to load up with every tool, spare part or supply they might ever need.
The printers would serve as a flying factory of infinite designs, creating objects by extruding layer upon layer of plastic from long strands coiled around large spools. Doctors use them to make replacement joints and artists use them to build exquisite jewellery.
In Nasa labs, engineers are 3D printing small satellites that could shoot out of the International Space Station and transmit data to earth, as well as replacement parts and rocket pieces that can survive extreme temperatures.
"Any time we realise we can 3D print something in space, it's like Christmas," said inventor Andrew Filo, who is consulting with Nasa on the project. "You can get rid of concepts like rationing, scarce or irreplaceable."