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3D printing heads toward mass production

Lucas Mearian | April 4, 2014
3D printer makers are working with technology giants such as Google to speed up the printing process for mass production. NASA is using 3D printing for rapid prototyping of spacecraft parts.

NASA is also using 3D desktop printers from MakerBot for rapid prototying of rocket and rover parts. Parts of the rover Curiousity, currently exploring the surface of Mars, were prototyped on a 3D printer, according to Gabriel Rangel, associate CTO of NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab.

In the future, Rangel said the Internet and 3D printing will allow students and other amateur astronomers to print out NASA equipment to learn more about the technology and perhaps help it evolve through crowdsourcing ideas.

For example, NASA offers an augmented reality app that allows users to view 17 different spacecraft models in extreme detail. Eventually, NASA hopes to allow users to download the designs and print them out for educational purposes.

Rangel also said "the next generation of rovers will be equipped with 3D scanners," enabling the creation of virtual reality images that can be printed back on Earth in order to "bring the solar system to us."

Once a probe lands on Mars or, for example, a moon of Saturn, it could scan an object on the surface and transmit the image back to NASA. The agency could then print out a solid replica.

 

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