Redwire announced they’ve been able to 3D bioprint a human knee meniscus in space.
Redwire (formerly Made in Space) has been performing a series of fascinating 3D printing experiments on the International Space Station. Their equipment was used to perform the first 3D print in space several years ago, and they’ve been improving capabilities ever since.
Currently they have ten research devices operating on the ISS, out of 20 that have been sent there over the past several years.
While they’ve performed 3D printing with ABS, PEI, metal and even ceramics, their most recent work involves bioprinting.
The print was made on their 3D BioFabrication Facility (“BFF”) on the ISS in July, and has just recently been returned to Earth via the splashdown of the Crew-6 mission.
Redwire worked with the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences Center for Biotechnology on the project, which provided the necessary medical engineering knowledge. The print itself was produced by NASA astronauts Frank Rubio, Warren “Woody” Hoburg, and Stephen Bowen, and UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi.
The company plans to bioprint cardiac tissue on a future mission to the ISS later this year.
This is a notable development for several reasons.
3D printing in space has long been desired because of the potential weight savings. Instead of sending up piles of spare parts on expensive rockets, a 3D printer would produce them as required using a smaller weight of materials.
While the ISS is in orbit and theoretically a quick emergency mission could deliver parts to the station in a pinch, that’s not going to be the case for future Lunar or Martian missions where it could take weeks or months to send supplies, if it’s possible at all. That’s why 3D printing in space is such a hot topic.
The bioprinting experiment opens up a new set of possibilities. Instead of printing parts for the hardware of the spacecraft, here they are printing parts for the crew themselves.
We’re a long way from doing surgery in space, but that day will certainly come. Having the capability to 3D print at least some replacement human body parts could be critical.
More work on this is necessary, but it’s clear that slowly, brick by brick, we are building the capability for extensive voyages in space.