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The first uplink tool made in space is…

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Posted December 22, 2014

The first uplink tool made in space is … a ratchet!

What exactly is an uplink tool?

The ‘uplink’ is the way we communicate with the ISS crew using a transmitting frequency from Earth to the International Space Station. Therefore an uplink tool refers to a tool design that was transmitted to the space station via the uplink and manufactured on-demand in space.

ISS Commander Butch Wilmore holds up the ratchet after removing it from the print tray. Photo courtesy of NASA

ISS Commander Butch Wilmore holds up the ratchet after removing it from the print tray. Photo courtesy of NASA

The Zero-G 3D Printer, currently aboard the space station, is a technology demonstration to observe how a long duration microgravity environment affects the additive manufacturing process. Until today, all of the objects that were printed in-space had previously been printed on the exact same printer before it was ever launched to increase the chances of success. Additionally, until today, backup files of all of the models printed have been available on an SD card that was launched with the Zero-G Printer. Today, for the first time, Made In Space uplinked a design which did not exist when the printer was launched. In fact the ratchet was designed, qualified, tested, and printed in space in less than a week.

Noah Paul-Gin, Made In Space engineer and designer of the ratchet

Noah Paul-Gin, Made In Space engineer and designer of the ratchet

Made In Space Engineer Noah Paul-Gin 3D modeled the ratchet in Autodesk Inventor and then 3D printed several iterations on an identical Zero-G Printer located in the Made In Space ground station. During the rapid prototyping process, Noah realized that rounded edges and finger grooves on the handle would make the tool more ergonomic and improve the grip. The ratchet was designed as one print with moveable parts without any support material. The parts and mechanisms of the ratchet had to be enclosed to prevent pieces from floating in the microgravity environment.

Merry Christmas Butch!

Merry Christmas Butch!

Once the design was finalized, the ground station print of the ratchet was sent to NASA authorities for a safety qualification. After qualification, the file for the ratchet was emailed to the ISS laptop connected to the Zero-G Printer. Once the design of the ratchet was uplinked to the space station, Made In Space engineers conducted a checksum to verify that the file was uploaded correctly before ultimately sending the command to initiate the print.

The ratchet took 4 hours to print and the space station even flew over California for the first time while the Zero-G Printer was operating. The ratchet will be returned to Earth along with all of the other parts printed so far in order to perform detailed observations on the differences between made in space parts and the corresponding parts that were printed on Earth.

Source: Made In Space

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