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The 3D printer, originally delivered to the station and tested in 2014, heats a relatively low-temperature plastic filament to build parts layer by layer using designs supplied to the machine.
The goal of having the printer on the orbiting laboratory is to demonstrate that additive manufacturing can be used to make a variety of parts and tools in space, reducing the need to send replacements from Earth. It is the first step toward establishing an on-demand machine shop in space -- a critical component to sustain deep-space crewed missions and in-space manufacturing. These new samples will be returned to Earth for comparison to similar objects manufactured by the printer before it was launched.