It's official, 3D printers are out of this world!  At least, they will be next year, because the International Space station will be getting their very own 3D printer.

NASA has partnered with the company Made in Space to launch the 3D Printing in Zero-G Experiment.  Made in Space is the brainchild of Autodesk Director Gonzalo Martinez, and Bespoke Innovations Founder Scott Summit, among others.  They developed the project with a team of specialists including space veterans Chris Lewicki and Dan Barry.

Zero-G printing is no longer theoretical, it has already been done.  In conjunction with NASA's Flight Opportunity Program, Made in Space flew multiple zero gravity flights and tested two modified versions of existing 3D printers, including one made by 3D systems.  They have also designed their own custom printer aimed at printing structures in space.

For NASA, this is just the first step in the outer space production journey.  They have plans to convert lunar soil into building materials, and eventually hope to tackle some of the problems facing outer-space colonization.  The more materials astronauts can gather directly from space, the easier the building will be.

Once the 3D printer arrives, astronauts will be able to make things on demand, rather than having to wait for deliveries from earth.  If it can be used for enough applications, it could eventually drive down the cost of launches and make long term space travel easier.

According to Aaron Kemmer, Made in Space's CEO, "The future of space exploration will change forever when everything we need for space is built in space.  In this future, parts, habitats and structures are not launched and assembled, but instead 3D-printed, layer-by-layer in outer space with additive manufacturing."

In some ways, 3D space printing opens up a world of opportunities.  Astronauts may eventually be able to print structures that are too large for them to launch from earth.  They may even be able to manufacture delicate equipment that is too sensitive to survive a shuttle launch.  For now, the details are scarce, but the future looks bright.  The International Space Station can expect to get their first 3D printer in August 2014. After initial tests, they plan to print a range of parts, tools and scientific equipment for use on the station.

NASA made news earlier this month when they funded a $125,000 grant for research into the possibility of a 3D printer capable of printing food for astronauts.