NASA is currently testing 3D printing possibilities while astronauts are in outer space. For example, there is a need of hex head 5/37 inch needs on orbit and 3D printers can replicate these tools. Another example of 3D printer usage that could save NASA a lot of money are the printing of feet used in seat tracks, which are also the same kind that are used on airplanes.
Niki Werkheiser, the lead for 3D printing in Zero-G ISS Technology for NASA, said that “3D printing in Zero-G will be ready to launch in early June of 2014. Currently we’re slated for SpaceX 5. The goal of 3D printing is that we want to take this to microgravity and for use on the International Space Station. As you might imagine, on Space Station, whatever they have available on orbit is what they have to use. And just like on the ground you have parts that break or get lost. When that happens, we do have to wait for replacement parts, or we have to use multiple spares that have to be launched which does require extra mass. The idea here is that we will, on demand, be able to print replacement or spare parts as needed. We can have the prints preloaded onto the printer or we can upload directly from the ground. So we’ll have an on demand 3D printing capability on station.” NASA is having vendors test their equipment in zero-gravity planes.
The 3D printing industry as a whole is extremely robust. UPS is starting to offer 3D printing in their retail stores. eBay and Amazon have both launched hubs for 3D printer products.