Building space stations take a lot of time and money. To put it into perspective, the International Space Station has been under construction for over 20 years. This is despite the fact that it's jointly developed by several countries pouring their vast pre-recession resources into the project.
A new California-based company, Made in Space, plans to take out most of the effort involved in building a space station. Their vision will be realized through a unique concept: building entire orbital platforms with 3-D printers, in space.
Made in Space's Jason Dunn explains that constructing space stations outside the earth's atmosphere reduces the overall weight and materials needed to build the requisite parts. Since it's built entirely in zero-gravity, there's no need to ensure that the components could survive the harsh G-forces associated with achieving escape velocity. The overall effect is a 30% reduction in structural mass.
Once the 3-D printers are launched, the only thing that needs to be done is send up vats of the print cartridges, or as Dunn calls them, feedstock. Applications of the technology in constructing colonies in other planets could also use local materials as feedstock, like the fine regolith dust on the Moon's surface.
Currently, Made in Space is shopping around for a 3-D printer that would meet their requirements. They'll run candidates through suborbital tests, then move on to trials in full orbit. We have a suggestion: how about one that's constructed entirely out of Lego?