MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. — NASA is preparing to launch a 3-D 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.
In NASA labs, engineers are 3-D printing small satellites that could shoot out of the Space Station and transmit data to Earth, as well as replacement parts and rocket pieces that can survive extreme temperatures.
The spools of plastic could eventually replace racks of extra instruments and hardware, although the upcoming mission in 2014 is just a demonstration printing job.
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