NASA has opted to contribute $100,000 to research into on-demand 3D printing of biomaterials. The project is being undertaken at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. This is just one of 12 projects recently funded by NASA’sInnovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program, but this one might have the potential to fundamentally change the calculations involved in manned space missions.
Biomaterial is a blanket term for any substance made from, or derived from biological materials. Wood, silk, and natural rubber are all biomaterials, but it is often difficult or impossible to produce such materials in space due to environmental limitations. The goal of this research is to build biomaterials from a 3-dimensional matrix of cells to create whatever is needed.
The process is expected to make use of a solution of cells designed to secrete the necessary materials. They would be deposited in a 3D array and allowed to do their thing. Researchers believe the process could be used to make new biomaterials, duplicate existing natural substances, and make combinations of organic and inorganic materials. Even complete human organs and other body parts are not out of the question.
NASA would like to see this technology one day lead to a process that can fabricate anything a long-term space missions would need be that a new door handle or a patch of human skin. This initial phase I trial will last nine months. If the results are good, the project can apply for phase II funding of up to $500,000 to do two more years of work.